During the Sandusky trial, MaleSurvivor Communications Committee Chair Thomas Hodson (who is himself a former attorney, trial judge, and is now a journalist) will be sharing with us some helpful explanations of the stages of a criminal trial. Our hope is that sharing this information here will help people better understand what is going on behind the scenes, and eliminate some of the confusion and uncertainty that will inevitably come up. Please follow our Twitter (@malesurvivorORG) and Facebook pages for more information and reactions as well.

Now that jury selection is over and the jury has been sworn in, the next step in the Sandusky trial will begin on Monday morning. It’s called “Opening Statements.”

Each side is entitled to address the jury and explain to the jurors what its evidence will show. Because the state has the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the state gets the opportunity to go first.

The attorneys will outline the case and highlight certain portions of the evidence that they think will be important. The attorneys will not note all of the evidence – just the thread of the case and certain expected high points of testimony.

Opening statements can be compared to going to the movies and watching previews of coming attractions or movie trailers. They don’t tell the whole story but give you enough of the highlights to make the viewer interested.

After the state gives its opening statement, the defense is allowed to give one. The judge will make sure that the defense attorney does not comment on the merits of the state’s expected case directly. This is not “Opening Argument” but only a time for the defense to outline its own case.

The defense, however, has an option. It can make its opening statement right after the state make its…OR…the defense can opt to wait and give its opening statement at the conclusion of the state’s evidence and right before the defense presents its case. That may be several days or weeks later – depending on the length of the case. The option is up to the defense to exercise.

There are strategic reasons to go either way. Sometimes the defense does not want the state’s words to linger in the jurors’ ears without hearing directly from the defense immediately after the state concludes. Other times, the defense wants to hear all of the state’s case from the witness stand before crystalizing on a certain defense strategy and therefore, it may be advantageous for the defense to opt to wait.

So, it will be interesting to see which tactic the Sandusky defense team will choose.

The judge will warn the jurors that the opening statements and eventually the closing arguments of counsel ARE NOT EVIDENCE…The only actual evidence will be in the form of exhibits or testimony elicited from witnesses under oath.