Cross Examination: Definition, Techniques & Examples

Instructor: Janell Blanco
Lawyers have the ability to ask witnesses questions in the courtroom, which is cross examination. This lesson will define cross examination, discuss cross examining techniques and provide examples.

Cross Examination Defined

A lawyer stands behind a table in the courtroom and is patiently waiting for the next witness to be called. The lawyer will ask the witness a series of questions he or she prepared for the trial. The process of asking a witness questions is a method known as cross examination. Cross examination is defined as the method that lawyers use to get information from a witness. The information that the witness gives is testimony.

During a cross examination, the lawyer will ask the witness questions that are related to the case being tried. Ultimately, the lawyer is trying to prove and win the case. You may ask yourself what types of cross examination do lawyers use? Let's take a look at the different techniques of cross examination.

Techniques and Examples of Cross Examination

Each lawyer has to determine what the most effective technique will be to cross examine a witness. Many of us have seen a court scene on a television show or in a movie that depicts a lawyer who is abrasive and breaks down the witness to the point that the witness cries and confesses what he or she really knows. What we see on television or in a movie is not always a real depiction of what is allowed in the courtroom. In a real courtroom, lawyers are not allowed to argue or intimidate witnesses. Lawyers are permitted to be argumentative.

There are five approaches to argumentative cross examinations.

  • Summarizing testimony
  • Speech making
  • Asking questions despite the witness denying any involvement or knowledge
  • Comments to the jury
  • Questions that start with 'would it surprise you'

The lawyer stays within the legal realm of cross examination when using the argumentative technique. An example of asking questions despite the witness denying any involvement or knowledge would be as follows:

'Weren't you the one who stole the car?' the lawyer asks the witness.

The witness replies, 'No, I was at work at the time.'

'You drove the car from the gas station when it was stolen, right?'

'No, I was at work.'

This is an argumentative approach and the lawyer keeps pressing the witness with the same types of questions despite the denial of the witness.

Let's take a look at another argumentative technique. Comments to the jury are often viewed as the lawyer being sarcastic. An example of this would be the lawyer saying, 'So you were able to see the color of the car, in the middle of the night, with the street light being burned out?'

The witness replies 'Yes.'

The lawyer would then make a remark that says, 'Well you have excellent night vision. Did you see anything else during the black of night?'

The lawyer is attempting to use sarcasm to get the jury's attention. The statement about the witness's night vision is a sarcastic remark that gives the jury doubt that the individual is being truthful.

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