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The Difference Between Direct Examination and Cross-Examination

The Difference Between Direct Examination and Cross-Examination

Through the course of a trial, attorneys have the opportunity to direct an examination of certain witnesses and cross-examine other witnesses. Depending on who is calling the witness to testify will generally dictate the type of examination that will occur for each witness. For example, if the plaintiff calls a witness to the stand (assuming that the witness is not a hostile or adverse witness), the plaintiff’s attorney will engage in a direct examination of the witness. Normally, a direct examination consists of who, what, where, when and why style of questions. Asking open-ended questions such as these allows the witness to freely describe his or her impressions of what happened in a certain situation. Furthermore, outside of limited circumstances, an attorney may not lead the witness during a direct examination.

Conversely, cross-examination provides a difference type of opportunity for an attorney to examine a witness. Cross-examination occurs after the witness’s direct examination. Specifically, cross-examination allows the opposing party’s attorney to question the witness in order to uncover information that may not have been disclosed during direct examination or to impeach the witness. When an attorney attempts to impeach a witness, the attorney is basically trying to call into question the credibility of the witness in front of the judge and jury. Impeaching a witness is aimed to show the jury the witness’s testimony on direct examination, or throughout the entire trial, cannot be trusted. 

Importantly, on cross-examination, an attorney may lead the witness. An example of leading the witness is as follows:

Question: You were texting while driving at the time of the collision, correct?

Answer: Correct.

Leading a witness is a strategical tactic that trial attorneys use while cross-examining a witness. A leading question essentially suggests the answer to the question.

As one can tell, direct examination and cross-examination are two critical stages of a trial. Since the examination stage of the trial is of utmost importance, it is essential to consider not only the witness’s potential testimony, but also the witness’s credibility. Thus, in addition to the other stages of trial, substantial amount of preparation is usually needed for effective direct examinations and cross-examinations.

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