The opening statement is the lawyer’s first opportunity to address the jury in a trial. Generally, the party who bears the burden of proof (plaintiff in a civil case or prosecution in a criminal case) begins the opening statements, followed immediately after by the adverse party (defendant).
Opening statements are intended to give the jury a preview of the case. An opening statement describes the parties, outlines the nature of the issue in dispute, presents a concise overview of the facts and evidence so that the jury can better understand the overall case, frames the evidence in a way that is favorable to the counsel's theory of the case, and outlines what the counsel expects to prove.
While a good opening statement is persuasive, it should not argue the facts of the case or ask the jury to make any inferences or judgements.
A party may elect to waive their right to make an opening statement, but that generally does not preclude the opposing party from making an opening statement.
The defense may choose not to make an opening statement so that they do not lock themselves into one theory for acquittal, which affords them the flexibility to pursue an affirmative defense or rely on the inadequacy of the opposing party’s evidence to meet the burden of proof.
[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]