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Copyright (c) 2010 American Journal of Trial Advocacy
American Journal of Trial Advocacy

TRIAL TECHNIQUE: Sequencing and Chronology in Trial Presentations

Spring, 2010

American Journal of Trial Advocacy

33 Am. J. Trial Advoc. 587


Kenneth J. Melilli +



A trial is, among other things, the law's process by which information is communicated by advocates to factfinders. Successful advocates make sound decisions, not just about what facts to convey, but also about how those facts are conveyed, including the optimal sequencing of those facts. 1 Intuitively, and conventionally, the most sensible formula for presenting information is to do so in chronological order, 2 revealing facts in the historical sequence in which they actually occurred.

There is much to commend this traditional wisdom. Human beings are predisposed to understand events as stories. 3 We are receptive to narratives that follow a linear progression. 4 Moreover, it is the essence of a story that it proceeds chronologically, or at least substantially so. 5

In addition to making events comprehensible, chronology also impacts inferences and conclusions. 6 Most obviously, our deductions about causal relationships are influenced by chronologies, as an event can only be perceived as a cause of another event if the former event precedes the latter one. 7 For that reason, as well as general edification, trial lawyers often present juries with timelines, at least verbally and often visually. 8

Notwithstanding the manifest appeal of a chronological presentation, a number of commentators caution that a strict chronological approach is not always the best choice. 9 A strictly chronological approach could separate in time facts that, although individually of limited significance, would be compelling when considered in combination. 10 Furthermore, a chronological formula might disclose facts the ...
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