The Best Way to Start a Cross-Examination

The key to a successful cross-examination is to start strong. The beginning of your cross is the time to go for the jugular. Here’s an example of how it’s done.

Question by defense counsel: Agent Wooster, the United States government spent over $1 million on this case, from the time of investigation until now, correct?

Answer by witness: How would I know that?

Question by defense counsel: You might know it because you were told so by your supervisor; you might know it because you filled out expense reports; you might know it because you reviewed the expenses log kept during the investigation. So I will ask you the question again: The United States government spent over $1 million on this case, from the start of investigation until today, didn’t it?

At this point, the prosecutor will likely object, saying: “Objection. What the government spent or did not spend has nothing to do with the crime charged in this case.”

That’s when defense counsel goes on with force: “It certainly does, Your Honor. If the prosecution has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in investigating this case, they may be tempted to cut corners to get a conviction, creating bias.”

To which the judge will hopefully say, “Objection overruled.”

This examination starts strongly. The examiner opens with a topic that interests the ordinary juror, i.e., possible squandering of government money. The objection gives the cross-examiner a chance to preview his closing argument in part.

Note that the cross-examiner didn’t complain when the witness asked him a question. Don’t dilute the impact of your point with quibbling over details and collateral matters. The witness’ question actually gave the examiner an excellent chance to make a point before repeating the original question.

Always keep in mind that, on cross-examination it’s the attorney, not the witness, who should be the focal point.

Get many more sample examinations and practical advice from experts in CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross-Examination, chap 5.

Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

One Response

  1. Wouldn’t the examiner’s statements in response to the witness’s question draw the objection that the attorney is testifying? Might the statements be better phrased as a series of short questions to the witness before returning to the main question?

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