Dateline: December, 2007, Issue 4

Are defense openings more persuasive if given initially or reserved for later?

The defense can give its opening statement immediately after a prosecutor's opening, or reserve its opening until after the prosecutor's case has been presented to jurors.

Wells and colleagues (1985) explored how the timing of a defense attorney's opening statement affected jurors' perceptions and verdicts in an auto theft case. When the defense's opening statement came earlier, jurors thought less favorably of the prosecutor's opening, the eyewitness testimony, and the prosecutor's closing than when the defense's opening was reserved. Further, jurors thought more favorably of the defense attorney's closing and their verdicts were more favorable to the defense when the defense's opening statement came earlier, rather than later.

In sum, the decision to delay an opening statement until halfway through a trial can damage the chances of a defendant's securing the desired verdict. Defense attorneys who take their first opportunity to make an opening statement, rather than delay, end up with a stronger case for their client.

Source Wells, G. L., Wrightsman, L. S., & Miene, P. K. (1985). The timing of the defense opening statement: Don't wait until the evidence is in. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 15, pp. 758-772.