Your approach to cross-examination will vary depending on the “type” of witness being examined, e.g., the hostile witness, the flippant witness, the timid witness, or the sympathetic and truthful witness. But regardless of which type you’re dealing with—which can even change during your examination—there are some universal principles of cross-examination that apply in any situation.
Before conducting any cross-examination, review the following tips:
Use short, nontechnical, positive, strong language. Asking a witness if she saw “the” broken street light will often get a different answer than asking the witness if she saw “a” broken street light. So will asking for the speed of two vehicles when they “smashed” (rather than “bumped”) into each other. “How short?” will often get a different estimate than “how tall?”
Lead, lead, lead.
If the witness is evasive, at a minimum repeat the question until he or she gives a straight answer.
Actively listen to what the witness is saying. Nervousness or preconception can cause you to not listen carefully and, thus, to lose important information.
Expect the unexpected. No examination goes according to plan. You should have alternate lines of questioning available if you’re surprised—yet you should never look surprised.
Have some “can’t miss” questions to ask each important witness. Begin the attack on a high note; end on a high note as well.
Keep in mind the purposes of each cross-examination. Decide whether you must take risks in examining a particular witness.
Appear confident and self-possessed. If you assume a confident air—whatever you’re feeling internally—and maintain a positive tone, you’ll have a good effect on the jury even if the examination falls short of your plan.
Get model examinations and “can’t miss” questions in chapter 5 of CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination. And sharpen your skills with CEB’s program Evidence: Tips for Effective Direct and Cross Examination, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts on cross-examination:
- 12 Must-Do Tasks Before Cross-Examination
- Keep Cross-Examination Short (Unless You Shouldn’t)
- How to Use Technology for Effective Cross-Examination
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