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CIVIL AND MISDEMEANORS
How to write out statements to the courts.
- Do Affidavits in California Need to Be Notarized?
Written documents filed with a court must follow court rules and state procedure codes. Personal statements are usually made as affidavits signed under penalty of perjury, although informal statements are sometimes permitted in actions like those in small claims court.
Written Statement to the Court
Every court action involves written documents presented by the parties to a case, including petitions, pleadings, motions and appeals. The required format, procedure and timing for filing these papers are set out in detail in the court's rules and in state codes of civil, criminal and appellate procedures.
Parties are generally not permitted to simply write out their arguments, opinions or version of the facts on a sheet of paper and submit it to the court. In most court proceedings, personal statements must be made in affidavit form, signed under penalty of perjury. Read More: How to Write a Sworn Statement
Making a Statement in Court by Affidavit
An affidavit is a written statement to the court made under oath. Generally, you can write out an affidavit by hand, type it or print it. When a party or a witness to an action makes a written statement to the court, it usually must be presented in affidavit form. This means that the person making the statement sets out facts and swears that they are true under penalty of perjury. Penalty of perjury means that if the person is lying under oath, they can be prosecuted criminally for perjury.
The person making the affidavit can include facts, but not speculations or opinions. The statement can be based on matters that the person observed or experienced directly. In some states, it can also be based on "information and belief," which means information a person believes is true, although not based on firsthand knowledge. If you make statements on information and belief in an affidavit, you generally must identify them as such.
The person making the affidavit signs at the bottom of the statement under penalty of perjury. Some states require that you make an affidavit in front of a notary public. In that case, the notary administers the oath before you sign the affidavit, then sets the notary seal on your signature.
Informal Statement for the Court
In some court cases, judges allow witnesses and even parties to a court case to present informal written statements. For example, many small claims courts are informal proceedings where parties are allowed and even encouraged to use less formal procedures.
If you are writing an informal statement for the court, you still want to stick to the facts rather than offer personal opinions. Write clearly and concisely. Include all pertinent information, but only facts relevant to the case at hand. If you are not a party, explain your role or interest in the case and your relationship to a party. Don't forget to sign and date the statement.
- Nolo: Witness Testimony by Telephone or Letter
- Legal Dictionary: Affidavit
- Legal Aid Services of Oregon: How to Write an Affidavit
- California Small Claims Court: Information for the Small Claims Plaintiff
- Contact the court district before finalizing the court statement, as some courts have a restriction regarding the statement length.
- Do not knowingly include false information within the declaration statement, as this is considered perjury.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.
- How to Write a Personal Affidavit
- How to Draft a Declaration in California
- How to File a Motion to Withdraw a Case From Court
April 20, 2020 Articles
Tips for developing an effective opening statement, an effective opening statement is built around a theme that can be summed up in a simple word or phrase or in a single sentence., by sherilyn pastor.
An engaging and effective opening statement is critical. It is a trial attorney’s first opportunity to present his or her case to the jury from the client’s perspective and to shape the jury’s views of the dispute. An opening statement, therefore, needs to be carefully planned. It should offer an understanding of the dispute and the parties involved in it. It should give an overview so the jury can better understand the evidence that will later be presented. An opening should establish the credibility of the attorney giving it so the jury is persuaded to trust the testimony, documents, and other evidence eventually offered for its consideration.
An opening statement is a factual narrative that should last no longer than is needed to keep the jury’s attention.
Halfpoint Images/Moment via Getty Images
An opening statement is a factual narrative that should last no longer than is needed to keep the jury’s attention. It should preview, in an understandable way, the anticipated testimony and evidence. It should not bore or confuse the jury with too much detail. It also should not overpromise that which may not, or cannot, be delivered. Failure to deliver on proofs promised in an opening statement can lead to counsel’s loss of credibility. It can give the adversary, at closing, an opportunity to argue that the party’s case was not made.
An effective opening statement is built around a theme that can be summed up in a simple word or phrase or in a single sentence. The theme developed should be straightforward, clear, and designed to catch and hold the jury’s attention. It should get directly to the heart of the dispute. A memorable theme will persuade the jury and help it understand and organize the evidence. The easiest way to make clear a theme is to state it, expressly, at the start of an opening. In a contract dispute, for example, the plaintiff might say: “This case is about broken promises.”
Many (but not all) experienced trial attorneys get to the point and the theme quickly. These practitioners believe jurors pay attention at the start of an opening. That being so, they tell the jury something interesting in the first few sentences. They do not waste the important first minutes on thanking jurors for their service, explaining the purpose of an opening, or making lengthy introductions to client representatives or the trial team. Rather, they stand and start to speak with authority about their case, demonstrating they are prepared and confident. Then, when appropriate, they will briefly introduce the client, putting a face to a party and allowing the jury to understand the client’s concern and investment in the trial and the issues the jury is to decide.
By way of example, in a contract dispute, the opening might begin as follows:
This case is about broken promises. Broker had a contact with Jones Corporation. Broker promised to buy insurance, carefully read the insurance policies, and then tell Jones Corporation exactly what was and was not covered by insurance. Jones paid Broker $1 million a year for these promises. Yet, when Hurricane Harvey hit, Jones learned—only after it suffered $40 million in property damage—that it had only $10 million in insurance. Broker told Jones Corporation it would have $50 million. Broker did not do what it promised. It did not get Jones Corporation $50 million in insurance. That’s why we are here today. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Mary Roe and I represent Jones Corporation. At the end of the trial, I will ask you to hold Broker responsible for the promises it broke, costing Jones $30 million.
Other successful attorneys believe that jurors are more likely to remember the first and last thing that they hear. They therefore structure their order of proofs and statement of theme looking to maximize their presentation based on concepts of primacy and recency. Primacy suggests that what is heard first is likely to be believed; recency suggests that what is heard last is easiest to remember. No matter which the approach best fits a case’s individual circumstances, avoid starting with the following:
- Why: The jury may not regard your opening as short. Avoid those timing it or judging its length from needlessly doubting your veracity.
- Why: Some gender references may be regarded as insensitive or offensive; avoid unintentionally alienating jurors.
- Why: It rarely pleases the trial court when the parties have failed to resolve and settle a case. Get off on the right foot with the judge and jury by taking the time to say something more impactful when you first stand to deliver an opening statement.
An opening should order important facts to support the dispute’s theme. A successful opening also will tell an engaging story from a client’s perspective, describing logically what happened. Chronological organization is often employed because jurors may have an easier time following a linear story. Effective openings also introduce only those witnesses or documents important to the story. They often use visuals, such as documents and demonstratives, in a way that enhances credibility and maintains jurors’ attention. By way of example, in a breach of contract case, the jury might find a client’s story more believable and easier to understand if counsel displays an overhead graphic showing the contract’s key provisions.
Many jurors are both audio and visual learners, meaning they will better understand by seeing as well as hearing an opening. Consider and address all necessary requirements for use of proofs and demonstratives during opening statements. Although the rules vary by jurisdiction, generally speaking, for counsel to use an exhibit during an opening statement
- the exhibit must be relevant and assist the trier of fact,
- the exhibit must not be prejudicial or inflammatory, and
- counsel must have a good-faith expectation the exhibit will be admitted into evidence.
Often demonstratives need be shared with the court and opposing counsel before openings or pre-marked as exhibits (or both). Whether or not this is required, it is best to attend to objections before trial (for example, at a pretrial conference). This will permit opposing counsel’s objections to be addressed before the jury sees the exhibit and will avoid opposing counsel’s objections from interrupting the opening statement. If demonstratives or exhibits are not permitted, consider bringing an ELMO or an easel on which to write down key points that the jury should focus on.
After introducing the theme, trial counsel should present the client’s case in the best and most accurate light possible, telling the story in a way that will make the jury want to decide in the client’s favor. Jurors often base their decisions about disputes on the impression received during an opening statement. The best openings offer a clear and persuasive story, using vivid images and metaphors. They introduce people and documents as they fit logically into the story and assemble the facts in a way that leads to only one compelling conclusion—the one the attorney is advancing at trial.
Developing a simple theme can be challenging. It is nonetheless important because it can be the bond that holds together the facts and the relevant law. The right theme also may help jurors argue a party’s case, when deliberating. Recall O.J. Simpson’s ultimately successful defense theme: “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
Effective openings consider strategically how, if at all, to deal with bad facts. The decision is case-dependent. A good opening may bring up warts without dwelling on them too long. Explain the bad facts in one to two sentences, making sure your explanation has proper context in your story and offers jurors a reason to understand that the bad facts are not bad for your client’s case. This can offer a measure of credibility and blunt the negative facts before they are raised in an adversary’s opening statement. If plaintiff’s counsel introduces the bad facts about the plaintiff’s case, defense counsel may not need to address them, or defense counsel may need to clarify and put them in what he or she regards as the more proper context. Addressing a bad fact out of context, however, can lead jurors to give it undue weight.
Trial counsel should speak directly, pleasantly, and confidently to the jury, attempting to make a connection with each juror. When lawyers read only from notes or fumble for words, they appear unprepared, and opportunities are lost. Trial counsel should be well prepared and make eye contact, leaving the jury with the impression the attorney is pleasant, professional, and competent, and knows the facts and believes in the client’s case.
A trial attorney should never remind the jury that what is said in his or her own opening is not evidential. Although true, the trial judge will likely make this point. It is not helpful to repeat it, causing the jury to wonder if it should be discounting or disregarding the opening statement. Instead, a jury should be made to view the opening as a useful tool by which it can understand the case that counsel intends to present to it by the proofs offered and during examination and cross-examination of witnesses.
Unlike closings, opening statements should not offer argument. Although judges vary in how much argument they will allow in an opening statement, most jurisdictions do not permit argument or discussion of law during the opening statement. See, e.g. , United States v. Anthony , 345 F. App’x 459, 464 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing United States v. Freeman , 514 F.2d 1184, 1192 (10th Cir. 1975) (“An opening statement gives counsel the opportunity to state what evidence will be presented in order to make it easier for the jurors to understand what is to follow, and is not an occasion for argument. . . . [T]he court can exclude irrelevant facts and stop argument if it occurs.”)). Rather than argue and risk being admonished by the court in front of the jury, use the facts in a compelling way to persuade the jury to the client’s way of thinking, but remain accurate and credible. Avoid technical jargon and legalese so jurors of all backgrounds can understand the case and reach the client’s desired conclusion.
Finally, an effective opening statement ends with confidence, reminds the jury of the case’s theme, and tells the jury exactly what is expected when the case concludes. In a breach of contract case, a plaintiff might say, “At the end of the trial, I will ask you to hold the Broker responsible for breaking its promises and award my client the money to which it is entitled.” A defendant might say, “After hearing the evidence, I will ask you to return a verdict for my client, finding it lived up to the promises in its contract. Thank you.” Recall, however, that at the close of the case, the trier of fact will deliberate and ultimately consider whether the evidence presented by a party meets its burden of proof (if any) and delivers on the promises counsel made in the opening statement.
Sherilyn Pastor is a partner with McCarter & English in Newark, New Jersey.
Copyright © 2020, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).
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Character Reference Letter (for Court) Template – Samples
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Updated July 17, 2022
The character reference for court is to provide the Judge a family member, friend, or co-worker with a written statement on the Defendant’s moral or mental qualities. The letter is commonly provided in child custody and/or drunk driving (DUI) occurrences but may be used in any situation needed where the court should hear about the personality and reputation of the Defendant in order to have the case drawn in their favor.
Immigration Character Reference Letter – For someone who is specifically entering the court for immigration purposes.
Who to Select?
When selecting an individual who will write a character reference, it is important to select someone that has known you for a long period of time and also someone that the court will respect. As an example, it is best if you can get someone from the community like a teacher that has seen you grow as a person to write a good reference to the court.
Drunk Driving (DUI) – If you are in need of a reference for a drunk-driving (DUI) incident maybe it is best to have someone like an employer or close family state how important you are to them. In addition, have them write how you are needed and that any jail time or suspension of your license will put more weight on other people’s shoulders.
Child Custody – If you are in the midst of a custody battle or a general family hearing it would be advised to elect someone who has seen you with your children. In recent years it has been more common to have a psychiatrist oversee the children around the parent and to have them write a formal recommendation to the court. In a family proceeding a letter from a psychiatrist has tremendous pull when it comes to the court ruling in favor of the children’s best interests.
How to Write (Format)
The letter should be a simple 1-page document stating your experience with the recommended individual as well as why you feel the need to provide this reference. Depending on who you are and how the court views you in consideration to the case it may or may not sway the Judge into using the letter in their final assessment.
The introduction should state who you are, how long you’ve known the individual, and why you feel the need to make this recommendation to the court.
The body paragraph be your main argument why the recommended individual is a person of high moral character. For example, if you are the employer of the individual it should state how important they are to the workplace and to plead to the Judge to show leniency in this case. Or if it is a child custody lawsuit it should have a family member write how much the kids mean to the recommended individual.
The conclusion should summarize the purpose of the letter and he or she should write their contact information (phone and e-mail) in case the court should want to follow-up on any of the information suggested in the letter.
Sample 1 – For a DUI
1 – the heading and the introduction.
It is important to keep in mind that a Letter of Reference for a DUI Defendant will be an official document in a court of law. Therefore, make sure that it appears professional and its contents are what you believe to be true.
2 – The Introduction Will Set Up The Body Of This Letter
3 – The Body Of The Letter Must Show A Positive Light On The Defendant
4 – The Letter’s Closing And Your Signature Will Solidify Your Intent
Sample 2 – For Child Custody
1 – provide the heading and the greeting.
2 – The Content Of The Letter
3 – The Closing And Signature Of The Letter
Sample 3 – For a Friend
1 – supply the heading information.
2 – Document The Defendant’s Positive Attributes
3 – Acknowledge The Defendant Has Made A Mistake And Provide Support
4 – Close The Letter By Summarizing The Letter And Signing It
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5 Tips for Writing a Witness Statement
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If something prevents you from appearing in court, you may be able to make a written statement instead. However, if you do not have a compelling reason to give written testimony, the court usually requires that you appear in person.
When you have to give a statement as a witness in a legal proceeding, it is generally preferred that you do so in person. However, this is not always possible. You may be indisposed because of illness or injury. Perhaps appearing in person would expose you to unnecessary danger, or maybe the distance you would have to travel is insurmountable.
Under circumstances such as these, the court may allow you to submit your testimony in the form of a written statement. Because the proceedings are formal, your witness statement should follow a certain format. Here are some tips for writing a statement the court will accept.
1. Include Your Credentials
In this context, “credentials” refers to the reason that you have been asked to give testimony. In other words, you need to explain to the court why you have the standing to speak about a certain issue. For example, if you were an expert on solar panels asked to testify to the effectiveness of a certain model, you would describe the education and training you have received on photovoltaic technology .
Nevertheless, you do not necessarily need to be an expert to give testimony. If you witnessed an incident, all you have to say in your statement to establish your credentials is that you were present at the time and saw what happened. It is unnecessary to mention anything about your background unless it is relevant to your testimony.
2. Use First-Person Point of View
Because a court proceeding is formal, you may be tempted to describe the event in writing from a third-person point of view. However, as a personal statement that describes what you saw and heard, you should write about it from the first-person perspective, using pronouns such as “I” and “me.” Remember that if you were to give this testimony in court, you would respond to questions posed to you by the attorneys and/or judge. You would answer those questions in first person rather than third person, so it is appropriate to do the same in your written witness statement.
3. Make Your Writing Factual and Detailed
You make your written witness statement under penalty of perjury, just as you would if you were to give oral testimony. Therefore, it is important that you stick to the facts in your witness statement. Do not exaggerate and do not make any suppositions, i.e., guesses as to another person’s state of mind or ideas that you cannot prove one way or the other.
Any detail you can provide, no matter how inconsequential it may seem to you, may end up being significant. Therefore, describe what you witnessed in as much detail as possible while remaining factual. The court will likely forgive a genuine lapse in memory, but if there is reason to believe that you have purposely omitted significant details, that could get you into big trouble.
4. Provide Identifying Information
The court clerk has to handle a lot of paperwork pertaining to the different proceedings that happen on a daily basis. To prevent your witness statement from getting lost in the shuffle, you should include the case number and name of the case, if known, toward the top of your statement. At the very least, you should be able to include a date of the incident about which you are giving testimony. You should also include your own name, address, and phone number so that someone from the court can get in touch with you if necessary.
5. Include Your Oath
When you give testimony, you make an oath attesting to the truth and accuracy of the information you have to give. This step is not omitted when you give a written witness statement. It just means that you have to write down your oath and sign it to give credence to it. You also need to include the location and date that you sign it for purposes of later verification.
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How to Write Out Statements to the Courts Written Statement to the Court. Every court action involves written documents presented by the parties to a case,... Making a Statement in Court by Affidavit. An affidavit is a written statement to the court made under oath. Generally,... Informal Statement ...
An opening statement is a factual narrative that should last no longer than is needed to keep the jury’s attention. It should preview, in an understandable way, the anticipated testimony and evidence. It should not bore or confuse the jury with too much detail. It also should not overpromise that which may not, or cannot, be delivered.
How To Write A Statement For Court 1. Establish Your Timeline. Before you start writing your statement, make sure that you have a clear timeline of events... 2. Formulate A Title. Your statement will need a title. This can be as simple as ‘Statement/Affidavit of [ ]’ followed... 3. State Who You ...