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Closing Argument Not a 'Golden Rule' Violation

Closing argument in a criminal trial is an opportunity for each side to summarize evidence and a theory of the case. Closing argument is an important part of the trial and the last opportunity each side has to directly address the jury about the evidence and theories. Though Tennessee courts do not want to unduly restrict these arguments, attorneys still must conduct them professionally and consistently with the principles of a fair trial. In the recent case of State v. Sanders, M2014-02535-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 9-18-15), the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the contention that a prosecutor's closing argument was a violation of the 'golden rule.'

In the Sanders case, the Defendant was convicted at trial of theft. One of the issues at trial was whether the taking of the victim's car was a theft of the car or rather the lesser offense of 'joyriding.' The prosecutor's closing argument asked the jurors to consider going out to the parking lot, discovering their car is missing, and learning that someone had taken it to Memphis and left it there. Would they consider the car stolen or just joy ridden?

The Defendant objected to this argument, characterizing it as what is sometimes called a 'golden rule' argument. Generally, arguments of counsel to a jury should not ask the jurors to place themselves in the role of a party to the case (or a victim in a criminal case). Jurors should view the evidence and arguments objectively and not from the biased perspective of a party or victim. However, the Court in this case did not agree that this was an improper argument. The prosecutor was just asking the jury to consider whether the facts met the elements of a specific crime, and not focusing on the consequences to the victim of an acquittal.

For more information on what is proper in closing argument, contact Hindman & Associates.

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