Abusive Arguments in Closing Remarks

The closing argument to the jury is a time for each lawyer – the Defense Attorney, and the Prosecutor – to present his or her arguments to the jury based on fair inferences from the admissible evidence and trial and the law. The lawyers are to refrain from abuse directed at other participants, including the Defendant and opposing counsel.

During a closing argument to the jury an attorney may not become abusive, inject his personal experiences, express his personal belief as to the truth or falsity of the evidence or as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, or make arguments on the basis of matters outside the record.

Sometimes this requirement to avoid abusive language is violated, as in State v. Gillikin recently decided by the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

In the present case, the prosecutor violated each and every one of the above rules and guidelines. Not only did the prosecutor repeatedly engage in abusive name-calling of defendant and express his opinion that defendant was a liar and was guilty, the entire tenor of the prosecutor?s argument was undignified and solely intended to inflame the passions of the jury. Indeed, the trial court recognized the gross improprieties, and we commend the trial court for issuing a curative instruction, ex mero motu, to the jury. Had the trial court not issued a curative instruction in this case, we would have been compelled to order a new trial for defendant on this basis as well.

The Defendant was granted a new trial on different grounds.

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.