Cross-examination Preparation and Techniques

Legal Compliance Resource
February 12, 2013 — 1,133 views  

Being able to effectively cross-examine witnesses on the stand can mean the difference between winning and losing a case. A proper cross examination can be an art, and it has to be meticulously planned and executed to handle the case better.

Techniques Successful Cross-Examination

1)    It pays to prepare – You must ensure that you thoroughly review any and all data and documentation regarding the case. Organize your documents and do all the background research and study you need. Plan what topics to cover with each witness and do your homework as early as possible. The jury will be watching your every move, and they will try to assess your knowledge and commitment to the case.

Dig into the plaintiff’s backgrounds, find out about his employment history, medical history, and any other minor details that may affect the case. Try to plan what sort of questions to ask and how to ask them.

2)    Be clear about the objective of your cross-examination – Always ask the witness leading questions. Leading questions are the ones that not only suggest the answer, but also declare it. Asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions are too open-ended. Read the body language of the witness to know which direction you should take to proceed with the case. Don’t be distracted by your notes; you must listen and observe the witness as you question him. By defining what you want to get out of every witness, you will stick to a certain path, and the cross examination will be more concise.

3)    Know what you will need to take to the podium –In the heat of the argument, it is important to maintain composure and show the court and jury how well-prepared you are. Be thorough about all evidentiary rules and always be prepared for surprises. It pays to keep the critical points and evidence in your mind at all times, in case you get side-tracked. Handling impeachment material also requires preparation, and the key is to know and have the material readily available.

4)    Know your audience well – You may have all the technical details and scientific research prepared but the jury needs to be engaged with the argument. If the jury doesn’t understand the jargon you use, it may affect your case. Use simple language and clear, concise strategy to keep the jury’s attention. Do not eliminate technical things altogether, but simplify it without making the jury feel patronized.

5)    All judges are not the same – Some judges are patient, while others need you to get to the point quickly. Some may even restrict your cross examination. Do your homework about the judge. See what kind of cases he has handled before and what sort of reputation he may hold. If possible, observe a trial in that judge’s courtroom. Gather as much information about your presiding judge as you can and you’ll feel much better prepared.

Preparation is key when cross-examining witnesses and handling trials. The better prepared you are, the better you will do in court.

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