Opening Arguments in Criminal Cases
Stuart, FL (Palm Beach Post) Opening arguments are expected to begin today in the first-degree murder trial of Christopher Tomlinson, the man accused with his girlfriend of killing her stepfather with a Samurai sword.
Tomlinson, 25, and Nicole Thornhill, 21, were arrested in April 2008 after Gerald Lee Jensen’s body was discovered in a Palm Beach County landfill.
Police say the couple confessed to killing the 48-year-old Jensen inside the Stuart apartment they shared with him and Thornhill’s mother, Kristan Jensen. According to police reports, Tomlinson stabbed Gerald Lee Jensen first in the throat and then in his chest before the couple dumped his body in the apartment complex’s trash bin.
Opening Statements in Criminal Cases
“Well begun is half done”
Aside from questioning, an opening statement is generally the first occasion that the jury or judge has to hear from a lawyer in a trial. The opening statement is generally intended for the jury (the fact-finder) and constructed to serve as a “road map”. Attorneys generally conclude opening statements with a reminder that at the conclusion of evidence, the attorney will return to ask the fact-finder to find in his or her client’s favor.
The purpose of opening statements by each side is to tell jurors something about the case they will be hearing. The opening statements must be confined to facts that will be proved by the evidence, and cannot be argumentative.
The trial begins with the opening statement of the party with the burden of proof. This is the party that brought the case to court–the government in a criminal prosecution or the plaintiff in a civil case–and has to prove its case in order to prevail. The defense lawyer follows with his or her opening statement. In some states, the defense may reserve its opening statement until the end of the plaintiff’s or government’s case. Either lawyer may choose not to present an opening statement.
In a criminal trial, the burden of proof rests with the government, which must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The defendant does not need to prove his or her innocence–the burden is on the government.
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