I know it’s tempting to dive right in and start working on your examinations, and opening statements and closing arguments. But you really should do yourself a favor and take a week or two to really understand the case and get clear on where you want to go with your case.
Litigators are often told to create a roadmap. So that’s exactly what I’m going to recommend to you.
Create A Trial Roadmap
When you are driving to a new destination, you’ll likely pull up a map on your phone. You can just have it give you step-by-step directions that you follow along with as you drive. That’s not quite what I mean when I refer to a roadmap.
On your map app, you can take a look at the full route you’re taking. It doesn’t show every single curve in every road, or tell you if there’s a pothole you’ll need to steer around. But, it gives you a good idea of how to get to where you want to go.
Similarly, a trial roadmap lets you (and your judge/audience) know where you are going with your case.
The Time It Takes to Create a Roadmap is Time Well Spent
It allows you to stay organized and on track as you prepare your case.
It allows you to know where you’re going, so you don’t get lost. You’ll be able to approach every other part of trial preparation (directs, crosses, opening, closing) with a clear goal in mind.
Taking this systematic approach will ultimately save you time. You won’t need to rewrite your direct when you find out you’ve forgotten to address an element of the crime. And instead of constantly rewriting your opening as you change your view of the case, your case theory is clear from the beginning and your opening basically writes itself.
Creating a case roadmap also facilitates communication between team members. It helps everyone approach the evidence with the same goal and theory in mind. I recommend that each team member create a roadmap. Then, the team should get together, discuss, and work together to develop a team roadmap. This way, you are all literally on the same page.
Four Things You Should Consider When Preparing Your Trial Roadmap
1. Elements of the Crime(s)
Start with the elements of the charges. These are the things the prosecution has to prove. Find the elements in the Jury Instructions. If there are no jury instructions, look at the code section(s) describing the offense.
Remember, the prosecution must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you are the prosecution, think about how the evidence meets each of these elements. If you are the defense, think about which elements will be difficult for the prosecution to prove.
2. Defendant’s Motive, Means, and Opportunity
A common way of presenting a mock trial case is to identify the defendant’s motive, means, and opportunity. In other words: (1) Why did the defendant commit the crime? (2) How did s/he commit the crime? And (3) When did s/he commit the crime?
If you are on the defense team, you’d ask the opposite: (1) Why was the defendant unmotivated to commit the crime? (Or, why was someone else motivated to do it); (2) How was the defendant unable to commit the crime? (And/or, how was someone else able to?) And (3) Can you show that the defendant did not have the time to commit the crime (and/or that someone else did)?
When preparing your roadmap, consider your answers to these questions.
3. Witness Roles
Think about how each of the witnesses supports or hurts your theories about the defendant’s motive, means, and opportunity. Note that not all witnesses will have something to say about motive, means, AND opportunity. For example, you might have a witness that can only speak to the defendant’s motive to commit the crime.
4. Summarize Your Case
When you introduce yourself to someone, you probably give them your name and what grade you are in at school, maybe the neighborhood you live in, and some hobbies. You don’t give them your entire life story.
Similarly, when writing your short summary for your case, focus on the big picture. What are the most critical points that your judge needs to understand and agree with?
Write it out. Three to five sentences should do it.
After you’ve prepared a clear roadmap of your case, you will find that you are well on your way to preparing a strong case. After you identify each witness’s role, you’ll have a good start on your direct and cross examinations. And your case summary will be a great outline for your opening statement and closing argument.
I recommend diving into the evidence first and preparing the direct examinations for your witnesses. My recommended approach for preparing a direct examination can be found in the post 10 Steps to Follow for an Awesome Mock Trial Direct Examination.