How We Prepare You for Cross-Examination for an Injury Trial
We have all seen the dramatic interrogations that happen in courts in movies and TV shows: the lawyer slams their first onto the witness stand, aggressively asking questions until the witness caves, cries, and admits to their crime. While sometimes it may feel this way in court, real-life cross-examination is much different than some films make it out to be – and less theatrical.
A cross-examination provides both parties with a chance to obtain important evidence from witnesses. Because you’ll be getting asked a lot of questions, our experienced Tulsa personal injury attorneys will help you prepare for when it’s your turn.
What is a cross-examination?
Cross-examination is the legal process of an attorney interrogating a testifying witness called by the opposing party. A witness will go to the stand where they are first questioned by the attorney who called them. Once the first attorney finishes their direct examination, the opposing attorney will be given the chance to ask the questions they’ve prepared. This attorney will try to discredit any evidence that has been provided or point out inconsistencies or discrepancies, thereby causing doubt about the witnesses’ credibility, reputation, and knowledge.
There are two types of cross-examination: supportive and discrediting. Supportive consists of asking questions that will encourage the cross-examiner’s case. The attorney is not to discredit what they are saying nor attack them, but to obtain helpful information for their client’s case. The lawyer is trying to fill in any gaps that can potentially hurt their case if left unquestioned. The attorney will try and prove to the jury that the opposing party’s own witness provides credibility to their case.
With discrediting cross-examination, the attorney will try to take away credibility from the witness’ testimony. They might show that the witness’ testimony lacks proof or common sense as to what occurred. The attorney will attempt to prove that the witness’ prior statements are inconsistent or that the witness has some trouble with their perception of the case. They can try to claim that the witness has a faulty memory or that they have a particular interest in the case’s outcome.
Types of cross-examination questions
Cross-examination is a fundamental right in our nation’s judicial system, but there are a few rules that govern the types of questions that can be asked. First, the questions can only be about the subject matter covered in the direct examination, or the original questioning of a witness by the attorney that called them. In other words, the attorney is not to go off topic into questions that are not relevant to that witness’ testimony or the overall case.
The second rule involves leading questions. These are questions that essentially put words into a witness’ mouth. They suggest an answer for them. For instance, “Is it true that you were texting while driving when you hit them head-on at 5:15 P.M. that day?” These types of questions are not typically allowed in direct questioning, but they are in cross-examinations. Leading questions are also allowed when the attorney calls a witness who is deemed hostile or adverse.
Aside from these rules, there are also non-leading questions. These allow the witness to create their own responses instead of suggesting answers for them. Typically, these types of questions are not asked when the opposing attorney is questioning the witness because it allows the witness free reign to try and explain their position. Open-ended questions that begin with “when,” “why,” or “what” allow a witness to reiterate their side of the story, causing the attorney to lose control in that moment. A skilled attorney’s cross-examination will oftentimes extract short, affirmative responses to questions in lieu of letting a witness run wild on the witness stand.
Be ready for cross-examination
Your experienced attorney will work closely with you to ensure that you are ready to take on cross-examination. There are many pieces of valuable advice they will provide to you along the way. For instance, do not change your demeanor between your attorney and the opposing. Although it may be understandable why you would want to lash out at the other lawyer’s pushy questions, it’s best to refrain from doing so. If the jury catches on to any changes in conduct, they may take it out against you in the final determination of the case.
Be sure to answer using complete sentences. The opposing attorney will try to have you answer only in the forms of “yes” or “no.” This gives the other side power. You must explain yourself as much as possible. For instance, if they ask you, “Your name is John Doe, correct?”, you will answer: “Yes, my name is John Doe.” Doing this from the very beginning helps you get into the habit of responding in full sentences. It may even help you feel more confident in your responses.
Another tip is to look where the jury is looking. It’s the proper way of addressing whatever is being addressed at the moment and makes you appear more professional and courteous. If the jury is looking at you, you look back at them while you’re responding. If they’re looking at the attorney, you’ll look at the attorney, too. Also, ensure that you state the most important things first in your replies. You will likely get cut off after a few seconds, so ensuring that you’re saying the most crucial points at the beginning can help your case. You also want to ensure that you don’t not allow the questioning attorney to put words into your mouth – if a question is premised on false or incomplete information, be sure to identify the same.
Being concerned about your upcoming cross-examination and time in court is understandable. It is common to be nervous and unsure of what you’ll need to say. That is why our seasoned lawyers will work with you to ensure that you are fully prepared for when your cross-examination comes. They’ll be with you every step of the way and answer any questions or concerns you may have. At Biby Law Firm, our experienced attorneys are always ready to help the residents of Oklahoma through every facet of a trial, including cross-examination. Call our office or submit our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.