Dateline: January, 2007, Issue 2

What is stealing thunder and how do I respond to it?

Stealing thunder is when an attorney reveals potentially incriminating evidence first (before the other side can) for the purpose of reducing its negative impact on jurors or other decision-makers. Stealing thunder is a highly effective tactic for handling negative information.

Recent research by Dolnik et al. (2003) investigated what, if anything, might limit the effectiveness of stealing thunder as a persuasion tactic.

Does the incriminating information have to be downplayed for stealing thunder to be effective? No. Stealing thunder is effective at reducing the negative impact of incriminating information on jurors even when the importance of the negative information is not downplayed.

Does it matter whether opposing counsel also mentions the thunder evidence? No. Stealing thunder's effectiveness at reducing the negative impact of incriminating information does not hinge on whether or not opposing counsel also mentions the thunder evidence.

Does anything make the stealing thunder tactic ineffective? Yes. Stealing thunder is no longer effective when opposing counsel reveals to the jurors that the stealing thunder tactic has been used on them.

Source Dolnik, L., Case, T. I., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Stealing thunder as a courtroom tactic revisited: Processes and boundaries. Law and Human Behavior, 27, pp. 267-287.