This procedural process excludes witnesses from hearing each other’s testimony and from discussing their testimony with anyone else. Failures to adhere to this process have ranged from dismissal of the charges to reprimands and exclusion of the evidence.
The Process of Giving Testimony
It is helpful to understand the process by which testimony is presented. The attorney who has called the witness is said to be the “proponent” of the evidence. The burden is upon this proponent to establish certain criteria before the witness is recognized as an expert and able to render an opinion in court. After being accepted and recognized as an expert with the particular discipline, the proponent proceeds with his or her questions first under what is known as “direct examination.” Direct examination is governed by certain rules that prohibit leading questions from being asked. “Leading questions” are usually more narrative in construction and suggest the desired response. The more frequent objections that are made during direct examination are “leading” and “non-responsive” or “narrative.” These generally have little impact on the substance of the information. Witnesses should not permit themselves to become distracted or agitated at these interruptions.
Following direct examination, the opposing counsel is afforded an opportunity to “cross-examine” the witness. Although these questions are permitted to be leading they are limited to the scope (or confines) of the direct examination subjects covered. The judge may grant wide latitude of the actual scope during cross-examination with the hopes of shortening the expert’s time on the witness stand.
Upon completion of the cross-examination, the proponent attorney may or may not ask further questions during “re-direct” examination. The line of questions during this phase should be within the confines of the cross examination and not go into any new areas. The primary purpose of this phase is to permit the proponent to “rehabilitate” or clarify responses given during cross examination.
Finally, the opposing counsel may or may not be permitted to have a line of “re-cross examination” questions. Theoretically, the field of the questions should be continually narrowing with each succession. In real life, the field and number of “re-directs” and “re-crosses” will ultimately be determined by the judge.
Click here to watch an example of cross-examination.
Law and Order and other courtroom dramas on television have created the stereotyped image of the lawyer who stands up and yells, “objection Your Honor!” The court then “sustains” or “overrules” the objection and testimony resumes. If the court “sustains” the objection, the witness must not answer the question that was posed. In contrast, the “overruled” objection allows an answer to be given. Although it may not seem to be the case, there are rules and limits that govern objections.
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