Legal Question: Can Closing Arguments Re-open Testimony?

I was watching an episode of The Simpsons last night. In it, Lisa was Bart’s defense lawyer for a prank he didn’t commit. She proves he didn’t do it and then makes a closing remark. During the closing remark she says “… and let this sweet and adorable boy go.” Janet Reno, the judge, says that she made an error, that by calling Bart “sweet and adorable” she’s opened up the ability for the prosecution to rebut the claim. The prosecutor, Principal Skinner, calls “everybody in the world” as a character witness.

So, how factual is this? Can a closing remark allow for new testimony to be presented?

I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think so. I’ve been on several criminal juries, though. My understanding/impression is that once they hit the closing arguments, they can say almost anything they want to, and that’s that. Firm declarative statements that the defendent did x, y, and your momma…or that they didn’t do it and the evidence shows that [specific person z] did it instead… Of course each side is able to give their closing spiel, and IIRC there may even be some opportunity to counter at that point. But more witnesses? I’m pretty sure to proceed to closing both sides agree that the evidence has been presented and the case is ready to be turned over to the jury.

No.

Argument is distinct from evidence. The jury is typically advised that nothing the lawyers say is evidence – the lawyers are there to elicit evidence from witnesses by means of questions, and to argue that particular pieces of evidence suggest certain conclusions.

That said, I suppose it’s possible to imagine a lawyer saying something during closing argument so severely improper and prejudicial that the judge must craft a remedy that includes permitting a rebuttal witness, but at that point you’re more into mistrial territory. In any event, it could not arise from the innocuous situation you describe, where sweet and adorable are fairly used as argument: inviting the jury to infer from the evidence already presented that the accused was sweet and adorable, not as new testimony on a matter of ultimate fact.

Thanks so much for the answers. My knowledge grows. :slight_smile:

Everyone knows that the rules of evidence in Springfield are different from the rules of evidence in Shelbyville, so of course!

I’m curious about that. I am almost 60 and I have been called to jury duty once in my life. And that consisted of sitting in a holding tank for several hours without being called to actually be on a jury.

How is it that you have been on several criminal juries?

Pretty sure there’s a mechanism to volunteer. But it’s certainly not outside the bounds of statistics that one person will be called once in 40 years and another person will be called several times, if that’s how the RNG falls.

Doubtful about volunteering. The whole point is a random sampling.