Magic Phrases for Admitting Exhibits

As a trial lawyer, you know that it’s not enough to merely limp across the finish line and get your exhibits admitted into evidence.  If you want to win, your exhibits need to persuade the jurors.  Unfortunately, the persuasive effect of your exhibits can be diminished by a sloppy presentation or a bumbling attempt to introduce the exhibit into evidence.

Getting exhibits into evidence is easy.  Here’s all you have to do:

  1. Pre-mark the exhibit
  2. Show it to opposing counsel
  3. Show it to the witness
  4. Ask the right predicate questions
  5. Ask the court to admit the exhibit
  6. Let the clerk mark the exhibit into evidence

That’s all there is!  But when I’m coaching trial lawyers how to work with exhibits, one of the more frequent problems that I see is the inability to artfully introduce exhibits into evidence.  Most of the trial lawyers I’ve seen tend to stumble and trip over their own words when they reach step #5.  It’s not because these attorneys don’t know what they’re doing or because they’ve never taken an Evidence course.  Typically, there are two reasons why their attempts to introduce evidence fall flat:

The first reason is because many attorneys don’t understand the difference between their role and the judge’s role during trial.  Hang around the courthouse for an afternoon and you’ll probably hear a lawyer say something like this:

“Your Honor, at this time we would admit Plaintiff’s Exhibit ‘A’ for Identification into evidence as Plaintiff’s Exhibit 1.”

But lawyers don’t get to “admit” anything into evidence — that’s the judge’s job.  The judge is the gatekeeper who determines which exhibits will be admissible and which ones will not.  The first step to smoothly admitting exhibits into evidence is to understand that we can only “offer” exhibits into evidence.  Once you understand that only the judge has the power to determine whether or not the exhibit is “admitted” into evidence, you’ll never make this mistake again.

The second (and far more common) reason why trial lawyers falter when introducing exhibits is because they don’t practice saying the “magic phrases” that judges need to hear before admitting evidence.

As you know, in persuasion, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.  Whenever you ask someone to do something, one of the things they’ll consider in deciding whether or not to grant your request is how confident you appear when you ask.  Compare these two requests:

Example #1: “Um, Your Honor, we would, uh, move the photo of the accident scene, I mean, um, Plaintiff’s Exhibit ‘A’ for identification, into evidence, I mean we would ask you to admit it into evidence.”

Example #2: “The Defense moves what’s been previously marked as Defense Exhibit ‘C’ into evidence as Defense 5.”

Your evidence has a better chance of being admitted when you appear confident that it should be admitted.  If you seem hesitant or unsure of yourself, your opponent thinks, “{!firstname_fix} doesn’t seem positive that this exhibit should be admitted into evidence.  I should probably object…”  To smoothly and persuasively move exhibits into evidence, you need to become comfortable with the language of admissibility.  Examine these sample phrases and pick one that you’d like to use in court:

  • “Your Honor, I ask that what’s been previously marked as Plaintiff’s Exhibit ‘A’ for Identification be admitted into evidence as Plaintiff’s #1.”
  • “At this time, we offer Plaintiff’s ‘A’ (for identification) into evidence as Plaintiff’s exhibit #1.”
  • “The Government at this time, Your Honor, would move to introduce Government’s Exhibit No. 23 into evidence.”
  • “Your Honor, we’d offer Defense Exhibit 1701 into evidence.”
  • “Your Honor, I move that Plaintiff’s Exhibit ‘A’ be introduced into evidence.”
  • “We offer Exhibit ‘A’ into evidence.”
  • “Your honor, I would like to submit People’s exhibit ‘A’ into evidence.”
  • “We would ask the Court to admit State’s Exhibit ‘R’ for Identification as State’s #12.”

Once you find the phrase you’d like to use, write it down on a separate piece of paper that you’ll take with you to trial.  Obviously, you’ll want to memorize the phrase, but post a copy of it inside your trial notebook or tape it to the lectern (just in case!)

It’s not enough to merely know the magic words: You must be completely comfortable with them so that the words appear natural and flow easily from your tongue.  After you memorize your preferred statement, you need to practice reading it aloud.  Your initial reaction is to probably skip this step, but don’t.  Just like the actor who practices his lines aloud until he owns the lines, you should practice your statement aloud they become your words.

The last thing you want is to stumble or trip over the phrase when you’re trying to be persuasive, so practice saying it aloud until it’s second nature.  Follow these simple steps, and soon you’ll be uttering the magic words of admissibility with ease!

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3 thoughts on “Magic Phrases for Admitting Exhibits

  1. So many follow-up questions. How many copies of an exhibit do you need for a jury trial? How do you handle admitting a large number of exhibits, which are divided into categories (e.g, bank-records; credit card receipts)? Do you recommend putting together an evidence book with opposing counsel and, if so, would it include only both sides’ unopposed exhibits, or would it also include exhibits one side wants to introduce, despite the opposing sides opposition?