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In Law, what is a Closing Argument?

By Christy Bieber
Updated May 17, 2024
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A closing argument is the final argument made by an attorney in a criminal or civil case. It is an opportunity for the attorneys' for both the plaintiff and the defendant to sum up the arguments and main points of the case. Most attorneys consider the closing argument a vital part of their case, as it is their last chance to attempt to convince the judge or jury to see the issue from their perspective.

A closing argument is also called a summation. This term is apt, because most attorneys sum up both the legal arguments and the factual arguments made throughout the case. A part of the goal is to remind the jury or judge of the key points each attorney made, and to have one last opportunity to convince the jury to interpret the arguments in the light most favorable to his or her side.

In the US, tradition dictates that in a criminal case, the prosecutor has the opportunity to make his closing arguments first. These final remarks are followed by the defense lawyer's summation. In criminal cases, the prosecutor also has the opportunity to "rebut" or reply to the remarks that the defense attorney made. In a civil case, a defendant's attorney generally gives his summation after the plaintiff's attorney, but no opportunity for rebuttal is normally offered. The prosecution is offered this extra chance to speak in a criminal case because prosecutors are held to a higher standard of proof in criminal cases than plaintiffs are in civil cases.

In most court situations, there is no minimum or maximum time set for a closing argument to be issued. In some cases, each attorney can make a closing argument that lasts for over an hour. Judges do have the right to limit the time that each attorney speaks for in making their closing remarks, however, and many attorneys voluntarily keep the remarks relatively brief as they don't want to bore the jury.

Attorneys can employ any number of tools in making a closing argument in order to attempt to sway the jury. It is not uncommon for a prosecuting attorney to show pictures of the victim in a closing argument, for example, in order to remind the judge or jury of the nature of the crime that was committed. While the opposing side can object to statements made in a closing argument if the statements are too far reaching, generally attorneys are granted leeway to employ many different sorts of persuasive tools in making their summations.

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Discussion Comments
By Wisedly33 — On Nov 29, 2014

Judges ought to set time limits for closing arguments. Not doing so is inhumane, in my opinion. Like Scrbblchick said, if you've already been through a week or two, or three of testimony, sitting for another couple of hours and listening to a couple of attorneys wrangle with each other is not just boring; it's exhausting.

A good, thoughtful closing argument can really help a case, though. If an attorney carefully walks through the evidence and shows why or why not it's believable, reliable, etc., and pulls everything together for a jury, it can make all the difference in the world in how the jury considers the case.

By Scrbblchick — On Nov 28, 2014

Closing arguments can be very powerful. That's how attorneys get the last word in a trial, and they can say nearly anything. They can sum up the evidence, yell, show pictures of the victims and preach a sermon, if they want to. Not much is off limits.

I can't imagine a closing argument going over an hour. It doesn't make sense to me. After sitting all day in a courtroom for several days, and then to be subjected to an attorney talking for over an hour, I think my eyes would start to glaze over. There is certainly such a thing as information overload, and I think an hour for a closing argument absolutely crosses into that territory.

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