Dateline: December, 2008, Issue 1

Have jurors made up their mind by the end of opening statements?

While the opening statement is not considered by the courts to be evidence, opening statements can be highly influential in jurors' decisions.

Weld and Danzig (1940) had jurors observe a simulated trial and recorded jurors' leanings toward the plaintiff or defense at 18 different points throughout the trial, including immediately following opening statements. For 22% of the jurors, verdict preference following opening statements predicted verdict preference throughout the remainder of the trial.

Broeder (1958) found that 80% of jurors formed judgments immediately following opening statements, and that the post-opening opinions of these jurors were the same as those taken into deliberations. Presentation of the evidence did not change these jurors' judgments made after listening only to opening statements.

Diamond and colleagues (1996) had jurors watch a videotaped simulation of a death penalty case and record judgments at various points throughout the trial. These researchers found that 70% of jurors reached a verdict following opening statements that remained constant until the end of the trial.

In sum, for many jurors, trials are won and lost during the opening statement. The opening statement is very influential in the decisions of up to 80% of jurors.

Source Weld, H. P., & Danzig, E. R. (1940). A study of the way in which a verdict is reached by a jury. American Journal of Psychology, 53, pp. 518-536.

Source Broeder, D. E. (1958). The University of Chicago Jury Project. Nebraska Law Review, 38, pp. 744-761.

Source Diamond, S. S., Casper, J. D., Heiert, C. L., & Marshall, A. (1996). Juror reactions to attorneys at trial. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 87, pp. 17-47.