Here is an excellent example of a defense closing argument. It is from a murder trial, where the defendant is claiming self-defense. Like any good defense attorney, he places the jurors in the shoes of the defendant. Mock trial students should take note of his folksy, and unpretentious style.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. First of all obviously as Mr. De la Rionda just said, I want to thank you on behalf of Judge Nelson, Mr. Zimmerman, our council Don West, the entire defense term, the interns working on this case for the last months, the prosecution team, and without sounding over the top but so are the citizens of Seminole County because you’ve taken on a responsibility that few people have the opportunity to or the obligation to and even more so than most because you may not know this but most trials are often a day or two. They don’t last several weeks. And it is very few trials, very few where there is enough of a concern that we have to sequester the jury. So you guys have given us not just your attention during the day but some of your life 24 hours a day, even more so in effect than we have. And I appreciate that on behalf of everybody we just spoke about. The whole system only works when it works with you. Strange in the way it sort of happens that we have a system with that over the years and we intentionally bring in people who know as little as possible about the system and tell them to make the most important decisions we have. And that’s what we ask you to do. We, and I have some fears I’m going to talk to you about in that regard because when we talked in jury selection, talked about sort of what this process is and how you have to come to us. I use the words like unique, strange even as far as the system that you’re now involved in. We’re used to it. We do it every day. Sort of like doctors with blood. You know you just get used to it as just part of what you do. We deal with things like autopsy photographs and jury instructions and evidence and witnesses who may or may not remember things or maybe not tell the truth. I think it’s a common vice. To me coming into my office and when I look at that and I know exactly how to focus my inquiry because I’m a lawyer. I couldn’t do it if I was in a hospital but I can do it you know in my office. And yet we ask you to come in and to take on all of our rules and all of our regulations and to apply those as if you’ve done all your life. And my fear is that that’s a very difficult task that we’re asking you to do. Because the reason was difficult was you’re completely unused to it. You don’t know how to apply a standard beyond a reasonable doubt. You just don’t. You don’t know how to wait until you go back in that room to have any thought or anything impression about how this case is going so far. It’s impossible. We’re not going to really ask you to do that but we sort of are because what we’ve said to you is come from your homes, come from your jobs, sit with us for a month. Get rid of I guess almost everything as to how you decide things in real life except the common sense we’ve talked hypothetically. Leave that outside, take on somewhat artificial, artificial is what you don’t need inappropriate or improper. I doubt that’s an issue at all, but this, some of the unusual standard that we’re asking you to take on. And my fear is that you will default to what you’re used to. You will default to the idea that you make decisions in a split second like all of us do. That you can’t help but have a first impression. If I were to walk in today let’s say, just as an example, walked in like this. Walked in and you just have an impression. What is God’s name is he doing with sunglasses on? Who does he think he is? What’s with the pinky ring? I put that on because obviously this case has gotten some publicity and I became known as some pinky ring wearing attorney. It’s actually my dad’s high school ring. It’s never been on my pinky but that’s all it takes is an impression. And we look at people and we keep that with us. So you might have an impression of George Zimmerman. You’re going to have an impression with him because he’s sitting at the defense table and maybe as we talked about he’s not just a citizen, but maybe he is a defendant or meaning he has something he had to defend. Maybe in fact that as the prosecuting attorney’s office had decided to charge him and he must have done something wrong. Maybe that’s the impression that you’ve got. Alternately we’re not going to ask you not to have impressions. That’s absurd. My fear as I was telling you about it is that if that allows you to sort to diminish or minimize your more task that you’ve taken on here that it works against my client because when we, even when we talk about things like common sense we want you to use your common sense. But be careful with your common sense. I know it’s a dangerous thing to say. Be careful with your common sense because common sense is the way we run our everyday lives, the way we make those snap decisions that we have to make every day and to work in our life, when I deal with my children and our parents.
I mentioned as an example driving today to see you guys today, you didn’t drive today but we did. You know you presented with people you’re going to drive away and not just cut you off. It’s what these assumptions that we make. The concern is that it may in fact work against my client because if you saw it using those same processes that we’re used to every day and just look at things make a decision and move on that suddenly I unintentionally you’re going to minimize or diminish the standard that has to be applied in this case. And I’m afraid of that for this reason. If you do that not only is it going to go against my client and I don’t want that, but any verdict you come up with is going to be sort of a compromised verdict, a verdict that’s not based upon the standards that you agreed to and not blaming you for not doing it, that you agreed to and that is the only way that the system really works. We talked about the difference in civil cases and criminal cases in jury selection. We talked about the fact that if this was a civil case you would go back in the jury room and say well the state wants me to and we’ve just got to decide more than half, you know 51% or whatever it might be. And then that’s the standard. And we talked but I think that’s probably the standard we use in everyday lives, everything but those most important decisions. Even when the decision is made to move out of state, come down to Florida, to you live your life here. We talked about maybe that’s a decision which is sort of similar to beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t know about that. I think that you make a decision like that you weight the consequences, you weight the possibilities, but you’re never uncertain. You never look at a situation like and say “I address and resolve all variables and all variables are resolved in favor of this.” It’s basically due to looking at it, it’s an opportunity or an alternative or a necessity. You figure it out and you weigh what you can weigh and you accept what you have to accept and then you reach the decision. I would argue to you, I would submit to you that’s not what you can do here today. I think that what you have to do is be absolutely vigilant, diligent in looking at this case and deciding what the standard are to you, the ones you have to take on. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to go back there and wrestle over whether or not Officer Raimondo, did he have medals in the right side of his chest when he was testifying or the left side of his chest? But that stuff doesn’t matter. But what does matter are those significant issues of whether or not the state has proven their case. And on those essential elements and those essential facts you have to look at that because my fear, Mr. Zimmerman’s fear is failing to do that you will do some of what the state has asked you to. They asked you to do it in voir dire. We talked about assumptions voir dire in jury selection. They asked you to do it in opening, when they yell those words that you know were yelled. They asked you to do it throughout the entirety of their case. So far they’ve even asked you to do it in closing. I mean I don’t, you are not a premise. The judge is going to tell you why’s. You’ve heard beyond a reasonable doubt instructions before on this case. I’m going to spend some time on it again to the extent that my argument or insight or presentation differs from what the court tells you, listen to what the court tells you. If I go too far afield one of the judge or the state will do anything, but within that context I think it’s a very, very difficult standard. It is one we have to look at it in the very vigilant to make sure that we are looking at this case. You’re not making assumptions that help you decide the case. Assumptions presume a lack of evidence because if you have to presume something you don’t know it. And if you don’t know it, it hasn’t been proven. And if it hasn’t been proven as the instruction tells you it’s just not there and you can’t consider it. You can’t fill in the gaps. You can’t connect the dots for the state attorney’s office in this case. You’re not allowed to. So, I’ll give you a couple of examples. They’re not utterly significant but I’ll give you a couple of examples.
What do you know about George Zimmerman? Well use your memory but you know he went to college. You know he’s a neighbor watch and he’s lived there for a couple of years. I think you know he’s married because we mentioned his wife’s name again. You know that his mom and dad are still around because they testified. But you don’t know a lot more about him than that. I mean there are a few more things. You’ll remember them. I’m not going to have a complete review of all of the evidence, but you don’t know a lot about him. To the extent that there are questions or issues that you don’t know about George Zimmerman we’re done with the evidence. We’re not getting any more information from the state attorney’s office to prove their case against George Zimmerman. Don’t assume it. Don’t presume it. Don’t connect dots. Don’t fill in the blanks with anything. I’m not saying that you’ll be sinister during that. I’m just saying that no matter what it is you can’t do it. That’s when we say to you this case is to be decided on the evidence presented in court. It sounds sort of grandiose almost. Well of course we’re going to presume the evidence in the case. There is nothing else. Well the problem with it is that if you’re not careful, as we do in our everyday lives you will connect the dots when you’re not supposed to. You’ll fill in the gaps when you’re not supposed to. You will make those assumptions, some of which the state actually asked you to do in closing. You will do that because you know what? It’s natural. It is very natural. But not in a criminal courtroom. It is not only unnatural. It is inappropriate. What do you know about Trayvon Martin? Not much either. But you’re not supposed to. What happened that day is what happened that day. But what I don’t think you should do is fill in any gaps at all, connect any dots for him either. In fact when listening to a witness if the decision was made by the state not to present additional evidence to you do not presume. Do not assume and do not think anybody will benefit when in doubt except for George Zimmerman because one you said you would and two that’s the only way we’ll have a verdict as not guilty and just and it’s going to be fair. So, one fear, be careful. Address my fear if you would by just being careful, just making sure that when you’re back there talking if somebody says, “Well you know he sort of this or I really think that,” that one other of you just says “I hear you.” So think of it too, can’t do it. Let’s just take that thought, that very natural extrapolation and put it to the side. And you might say to yourself since it’s the state who carries the burden alone, “You know something? That’s what the state didn’t give us. That’s what they didn’t show us.” So let’s look at the jury instructions and see if it matters.” Does it matter whether Officer Raimondo was wearing his medals? No. But if it is a significant issue, if it’s something that you need to consider and decide in the case of whether or not George Zimmerman committed second degree murder then sit back and say, “I have to look at the instructions and the instructions say that reasonable doubt can come from lack of evidence as well as come from a conflict in the evidence.” The reason why we tell you and you’re instructed by the court that George Zimmerman be not prove anything is precisely that reason. Again, a strange system. Those, anyone who with children know that you want to get them separated and you want to get the story from both sides and that’s the only way to figure it out. And then you’ll know who stole cookies and gave the cookies to the other one to cover the crime or whatever it might be. You get an idea because you get them both. So why does he have that benefit? Why does he come before you and say, “You know what? I decided not to testify.” And then you get to sit back and go, “Wait a minute. My assumption is I want to hear from him.” Now, this case obviously is different than others because you’ve heard from him. Time and time and time again you’ve heard from him telling you what happened that night. But you know what? Even if we didn’t put him on the stand you still have to go back there and say, “I’m not considering that.” Why? Why do we take away that concise presumption of finding out all the information that we can with a case? Because we’ve all ready talked about it. We want to take somebody’s liberty? Well they’ve got to prove the case. The burden is on the state and it goes back a long, long way. I’ve got a quote to talk to you about, a couple of them actually. John Adams, 1770 when we sort of started this experiment a couple of hundred years ago. God I guess it’s 250 years. “And it’s more important that innocence be protected than that the guilty be punished.” Now if I stop there it sort of sounds like I’m asking you to let my guilty client go. I’m not. He’s not guilty of anything but protecting his own. But the quote continues. “For guilt and crimes that are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished, but if innocence itself is brought to the bar then condemn perhaps to die then the citizens say whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial. For innocence itself is no protection. And if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizens then it would be the end of security whatsoever.” I have a quote at my office that talks about that in a different way than the 1700s and may not be authenticated from an Irelandite. I was there to visit but never was there but it also talked about, this is not a death looming of case, but obviously that was a death looming case where they were talking about a guy going to the gallows. And the question was condemning somebody and not being absolutely certain as to your decision. And to sending him to the gallows not because he was guilty but because maybe he was innocent and maybe you just didn’t know. So that’s why we have a system that puts so much of a burden properly on the state attorney’s office in this case, to make sure that we don’t cut any corners and we don’t make any assumptions. And this is a compliment to you because Thomas Jefferson talked about you guys about 200 years ago as well when he said, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man by which government can be held to the principle of its constitution.” That’s you guys. And I think he was talking about juries in general but it applies to you as well because we talked about living the constitution well, planned or not. You guys are it. You are living the constitution. And we’ll go over a little bit of it and I talked to you about it all ready. This is a solemn matter. Don’t take this lightly. Whether it’s through jokes or kidding around when you see us smiling at each other or whatever, this is a serious, serious matter for Mr. Zimmerman and it’s an utterly serious matter for you. And I don’t say that to scold you into acting a certain way but just to make sure that we don’t do what the state has asked you to do on a couple of occasions. And you know what? You guys figure it. It means that assumption. What about this? It’s interesting in a case like this because I call this case the bizarre case in my practice because it sometimes seems like it’s to have gone upside down to me. Not saying that you should agree with that. It’s just a perspective that I’ve had with this case. How many have you heard from the state in this case? How many what ifs have you heard from the state in this case? Well they don’t, I don’t get anyway, they don’t get to ask you that. I don’t think they get to say to you, “What do you think?” No, no, no. No, no, no. What have I proved to you? What have I convinced you beyond a reasonable doubt occurred in this case so much so that you don’t have any reasonable doubt as to those issues that I’ve presented to you. They are supposed to use words like certainty and definite and without question beyond a reasonable doubt. No other explanation. These are the words and phrases that I’ve heard prosecutors. I used to be one. I know. I’ve used them. What aren’t good words of good prosecutors are maybe, what if, I hope so, you figure it out, could have been because those are the assumptions that please do not make. Do not cheapen your roll in this case by doing anything less than holding them to the burden that they said in the beginning of the case they would gladly accept and prove to you.
You know the upside down nature of it is that’s what defense attorneys do the more I think about it. You know somebody undervalue and prove a defense lawyer? We’re the ones who live in current events and what ifs. Well you know what? Here’s a reasonable doubt. What if blah, blah, blah, blah, blah? Where you know it could have been that it happened this way and that could have been that reasonable hypothesis of innocence? We’ll talk about that in a sec, actually not a sec, it’s going to be some time this hour I hope. The could have been. That’s where a defense attorneys learn to practice and words that they learn to agree to return. I’m not going to do any of that with you today. I want to know exactly what happened that night. I don’t want you to presume anything. I would like you to presume whatever you can for my clients benefit because after all that’s what great defense attorneys do. But in this type of a case where it will be something that will probably upset or enrage defense attorneys anywhere who listen to this case.