How Does a Closing Argument Work?
In a criminal trial, at the conclusion of the evidence, the State may make a closing argument to the jury first. Then, the Defense may make their closing argument to the jury second. After both have given their main closing arguments, the State has another chance to add on to their initial argument by rebutting anything the Defense may have said. However, the State cannot use the rebuttal to finish what they may have missed in their initial argument; instead, they must only directly respond to the matters raised in the Defense’s closing argument.
A closing argument is a right that is exercised by the State and the Defense at the end of trial. This right can be waived, but it is rarely done, because it is an opportunity for the attorneys to organize all the witnesses, evidence, and information provided to the jury, apply it to the law, and help the jury render their verdict.
The judge has the discretion to limit each party’s closing argument to a reasonable time. Also, the attorneys cannot introduce any new evidence. They must rely on the evidence properly admitted in the trial so far. The attorneys are not allowed to say what the law is either, because the judge is the one who does this before closing arguments through “jury instructions.” Instead, the attorneys are to apply their facts to the law presented by the judge and make their arguments.
Once their closing arguments are complete, the jury is sent to deliberate and reach a verdict based on the evidence presented, the law told to them by the judge, and the arguments made by the State and the Defense. For a guilty verdict, the jury must be unanimous.