'Desperate for Love II': Further Reflections on the Interpenetration of Legal and Popular Storytelling in Closing Arguments to a Jury in a Complex Criminal Case

32 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2011


This article stems from an observation that the nature of lawyering practice and storytelling at trial is changing rapidly. Many of these changes are the result of new technologies, especially the use of aural and visual ‘paratexts’ at trial. The use of these paratexts has permitted reinvention of the ways that stories are now told, and often the types of stories that are told. Evidence is often presented aurally and visually. This adjustment enables, and perhaps compels, a radical reinvention of the types of stories told at trial.

As a result of these changes, a phenomenon has occurred that is notable in the high-profile and complex criminal trials: jurors seem to make sense out of increasingly complex situations through references to other imagistic stories. The new media world at trial evokes other cinematic stories of popular culture. There is an apparent interpenetration between popular stories and the stories that lawyers tell at trial. No longer does popular culture merely reflect the stories told by lawyers at trial--popular culture creates these stories.

This paper focuses on perceiving the interpenetrations between the worlds of popular culture and the courtroom. This is done in the context of a close reading of closing arguments in a complex RICO racketeering case. The closing argument of the defendant in this case manifested a new type of argumentation that has emerged in the courtroom recently. It is stylish, imagistically and narratively sophisticated, and compelling in form and substance.

The first part of this paper presents a narrative reconstruction based upon significant excerpts taken from the closing arguments in United States v. Bianco. After briefly contrasting the form of the parties closing arguments, the paper analyzes the interpenetrations between the defendant’s arguments and cinematic stories. These cinematic stories are the narrative templates that underlie the Defendant's closing argument. This newly emergent and open-ended storytelling style is remarkably influenced by the conventions of popular imagistic storytelling. The paper concludes by illustrating the interconnections between the Hollywood films, Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and the defense attorney’s narrative.

Keywords: technology, narrative, evidence, criminal litigation, complex litigation, popular culture, closing argument, RICO, film

Suggested Citation

Meyer, Philip N., 'Desperate for Love II': Further Reflections on the Interpenetration of Legal and Popular Storytelling in Closing Arguments to a Jury in a Complex Criminal Case. University of San Francisco Law Review, Vol. 30, p. 931, 1996. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1794043

Philip N. Meyer (Contact Author)

Vermont Law School ( email )

68 North Windsor Street
P.O. Box 60
South Royalton, VT 05068
United States

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