Presentation is an important element of trial practice. What does that mean? How does one utilize presentation during trial? Why is presentation effective? Why should it be considered in trial practice?
A jury trial is decided by a group of lay jurors—taken from the community where the case is venued- that decides the case’s facts and the damages owed, if any. The jury is tasked with making decisions based only upon the evidence introduced in the courtroom. The jury instructions specifically command that the jury is not to perform any independent investigation, visit any scenes, or conduct any research of any kind that is not part of the trial and sanctioned by the court. The jury is to make its monumental decisions based exclusively upon the evidence introduced at trial.
In order to attempt to persuade the jury, attorneys for the different parties in the trial offer evidence in the form of witnesses that provide live testimony; documentary evidence that the judge deems admissible, meaning that the jury may see it, review and consider it; pictures or video representations of places, people, or things; and, perhaps even models, diagrams or other physical evidence that is introduced at trial.
Since the trial attorney is tasked with introducing evidence which he or she may then argue should lead the jury to findings in favor of his or her client, how the evidence is presented—separate and apart from which evidence is used or what is influential—becomes an important tactic in trial. This is due to the trial’s procedure where evidence is introduced by the parties, not necessarily in a linear manner—meaning that the evidence may come in at any time, through any witness or interpretation of any document, no matter who is introducing it or for what intended purpose. Trial counsel is not allowed to comment on the significance of the evidence during the trial, but must wait until closing arguments to address the evidence’s significance.
Other than in opening statement, where the trial attorney is to provide the jury with a roadmap or description of the evidence as it is sought to be introduced, there is no specific direction for which evidence is introduced, and it may be interpreted as random, disorganized or haphazard by a jury, despite all efforts to the contrary by trial counsel.
The rules of evidence’s admissibility and the imprecise nature of the introduction of evidence at times may cause the jury to lose sight of the importance of certain evidence, or even miss it entirely if the evidence is not sufficiently highlighted during its introduction.
This is where the trial attorney’s presentation of the evidence becomes a significant tactic. Compare, for example, two different trial lawyers with different methods for the introduction of an important piece of documentary evidence—say a critical clause in the interpretation of a disputed contract in a business litigation trial. One counsel offers the contract into evidence and has a witness, probably the person who signed the contract, read the language of the critical clause to the jury, while he is on the witness stand. The trial lawyer then intends upon arguing the weight of that contract clause in his or her closing argument.
The other trial lawyer, in our hypothetical example of the business litigation contract dispute, presents the contract through a powerpoint presentation, that enlarges the contract onto a large screen erected in the courtroom, then provides an animated powerpoint pane where the critical clause lifts away from the contract page and grows larger and more prominent on the screen. While this animated presentation is going, the witness on the stand is describing the contract’s provision and its importance.
Which offer of the contract evidence is more likely to be remembered by the jury? Since lots of witnesses shall testify, and many documents shall be introduced, the first lawyer’s reading of the contract language, with no visual aids, is far less likely to be recalled, noticed and given importance to by the jury than the second lawyer’s visual powerpoint presentation.
In both cases, the contract is introduced and a witness describes the contract’s terms and perhaps their significance; however, the second lawyer’s addition of a visual, animated presentation captures the jury’s attention and is much more likely to be recalled and noted by the jury at the time the evidence is introduced. Presentation provides a much more effective way to cause evidence to be noticed and appreciated at the time it is introduced to the jury.