Cross-examination is the opportunity for the attorney to ask questions in a court of a witness who has testified in a trial on behalf of the opposing party. The questions on cross-examination are limited to the subjects covered in the direct examination of the witness, but importantly, the attorney may ask leading questions, in which he/she is allowed to suggest answers or put words in the witness’s mouth. For example, “Isn’t it true that you told Mrs. Jones, she had done nothing wrong?” which is leading, as compared to “Did you say anything to Mrs. Jones?” (Definition by law.com).
The purpose of cross-examination is:
- To elicit evidence in support of your case
- To cast doubt on, or undermine the witness’s evidence so as to weaken your opponent’s case, and to undermine the witness’s credibility
- To put your case and challenge disputed evidence
A strong cross-examination can force contradictions, expressions of doubts or even complete obliteration of a witness’s prior carefully rehearsed testimony. On the other hand, repetition of a witness’s story, vehemently defended, can strengthen his/her credibility. Thus, the important thing for the advocate to remember is that the witness on the stand during cross is hostile and often coached to do anything but help the lawyer’s case.