There is no doubt about it: DUI trial lawyers are in the story-telling business. And in order to win the trial, the DUI defense lawyer must be able to tell a compelling story. This was the point made by Michigan criminal defense lawyer Cheryl Carpenter in her recent post to a criminal defense listserve (reused here with her permission).
In the April issue of Psychology Today, there is an article entitled “The Inside Story”. It is authored by a screenwriter. It talks about the importance of a story and how it allows our brains to process and use information.
“The heart is always the first target in telling purposeful stories. Stories must give listeners an emotional experience if they are to ignite a call to action.”
The call to action is what we do during closing argument. Facts don’t win cases, the stories we tell that connect our case to our juror’s own life stories do. This article talks about the arc of a story and how it comforts listeners.
We know there will be a resolution so we can endure the turmoil of our hero. The article also explains how our left brain processes all the data our brain receives:
“The brain takes information spewed out from other areas of the brain, the body and the environment, and synthesizes it into a story. If there is not an obvious explanation, we fabricate one.”
That tells me if we do not give our jurors a reason for the action in a case (complainant in CSC lied because she was rejected, our client was afraid for his life so fired shots), they will make one up that might not be favorable to us in the end.
No doubt that Ms. Carpenter is correct in her analysis of this Psychology Today article. Here is how the author Mr. Peter Guber, succinctly explains the importance of the story:
They are the most effective form of human communication, more powerful than any other way of packaging information. And telling purposeful stories is certainly the most efficient means of persuasion in everyday life, the most effective way of translating ideas into action, whether you’re green-lighting a $90 million film project, motivating employees to meet an important deadline, or getting your kids through a crisis.
Stories, on the other hand (as opposed to PowerPoint presentations), are state-of-the-heart technology—they connect us to others. They provide emotional transportation, moving people to take action on your cause because they can very quickly come to psychologically identify with the characters in a narrative or share an experience—courtesy of the images evoked in the telling.
As Ms. Carpenter and Mr. Guber have correctly observed and carefully stated, a well-executed trial is always a form of “human communication;” and when the trial successfully incorporates a “purposeful story” it can be a most efficient way to persuade the jury to return a not-guilty verdict.
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