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Limitation on Closing Argument Affirmed

In a criminal trial, closing argument is the opportunity for each side to summarize their theories of the case. There is flexibility for each side to present a theory. But the arguments are still limited to the facts in evidence and reasonable inferences from those facts. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Krasovic, M2013-00607-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 6-26-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a trial court's limitation on the defense description of events leading to convictions for vehicular homicide and reckless endangerment.

In the Krasovic case, the defendant was charged with vehicular homicide and other offenses arising out of a vehicle crash on Highway 108 in Grundy County. The defendant was driving a vehicle which was speeding and attempting to pass another vehicle in a no-pass zone. The defendant crashed head on into another vehicle, killing the victim, who had been driving her family to dinner that evening.

The state's theory was that the defendant was speeding and recklessly trying to pass slower traffic. The defense theory was that the third vehicle had pulled onto the highway in front of the defendant, causing a sudden emergency and forcing him into the oncoming lane to avoid striking the third vehicle. Accident reconstruction experts testified at the trial.

The occupants of the third vehicle testified that they stopped at an intersection, looked both ways, and that the defendant did not appear until they were already on the highway and traveling near the speed limit. The defense accident expert speculated that the third vehicle may not have completely stopped at the intersection, but rolled through it at up to fifteen miles per hour.

In closing argument, presenting the defense sudden emergency theory, defense counsel argued the third vehicle "whips" out in front of the defendant's vehicle. The sate objected, arguing that there was no evidence presented that the third vehicle 'whipped' out. The trial court then cautioned defense counsel to stay within the evidence.

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court improperly restricted his closing argument. The Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, concluding that the trial court properly exercised its discretion and that the defendant was not prohibited from presenting his theory of sudden emergency or from arguing that the defendant's conduct was not reckless.

For more information on presentation of closing argument at trial, contact Hindman & Associates.

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