You’d think a little word like “a” or “the” wouldn’t have any importance, when you’re crafting your opening or your closing. And yet . . .”a” and “the” are powerful ways to focus the jurors’ attention where you want it. Not where the jurors’ attention will roam, left to its own devices.
“A” refers generically to an undefined object. “The” refers specifically to a defined object. “Did you see a man with a limp?” does not focus the jurors’ attention in the same way as “Did you see the man with the limp?” does. The use of “the” presupposes that the man exists, the limp exists, and thus that the only thing in question is whether or not the witness saw the man. People will search their memories more assiduously given the subconscious message that the man with the limp exists, than they would if asked whether they saw “a man” with “a limp” – which contains no such subconscious assumption.
Similarly, notice the differential impact of such words as “frequently,” “occasionally,” “sometimes” and “often.” Studies have shown that when people were asked if they had headaches “frequently,” they answered, on average, “2.2 headaches per week.” Whereas if asked if they had headaches “occasionally,” they answered, on average, “0.7 headaches per week.” Such is the power of “little” words! Use them wisely.