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Direct Examination

DIRECT EXAMINATIONA party to a lawsuit can only be successful in a trial if he/she proves the necessary elements of their case. The law requires that the facts and information offered be proven to be true to the satisfaction of the decision maker. One of the main ways to present evidence that supports the facts of one's case is direct examination.

Direct examination is the process of questioning one's own witnesses, people who will produce testimony that supports the facts the party is claiming are true. This is in contrast to cross-examination, which is the process of asking questions of the opposing party's witnesses to weaken the opposition's case (by weakening the impact of any statements made by the opposition's witnesses or by attacking the credibility of a witness him- or herself).


Different witnesses will serve different purposes in establishing one's case in a court. Eyewitnesses may be members of the general public who actually saw the events transpire that led to the damages claimed by the plaintiff. Some witnesses may be provided to verify that other evidence, such as pictures, diagrams, or records, are authentic. Others may be professionals who describe the events at issue from the perspective of their professional duties: for example, a police officer at the scene of a car accident.

Because direct examination involves the questioning of one's own witnesses, it is important to ensure that each witness whose testimony will be offered will indeed be helpful to a party's case, and that the party is aware of what the party will say. It is useful to prepare with a witness prior to trial, so that the witness knows what questions to expect and the questioning party knows what answers the witness will offer.


Several key points are important to remember when questioning witnesses on direct examination:

  • Courtesy: regardless of one's personal feelings toward a witness, it is essential to remember that witness responses can mean the difference between winning and losing the lawsuit judgment; thus each witness should be treated politely and courteously
  • Non-Argumentative Questioning: arguing with a witness will both lessen the likelihood that the witness will offer anything helpful to one's case (and may, in fact, damage one's case), and will make the argumentative questioning party appear crude and unsympathetic to the decisionmaker
  • Physical Demeanor: the party questioning the witness should stand during the course of direct examination, but should never approach the witness stand unless permission is asked for from the judge and granted
  • End of Questioning: it is important to recognize when to stop questioning: if a witness is not providing the answers a party desires, at some point the direct examination becomes no longer helpful, and instead wears on the energy and patience of the witness, the parties, the judge, and the jury; when the cross examination is at a stopping point, one should announce "no more questions" and return to their table

Leading Questions

On direct examination, a party may NOT ask LEADING QUESTIONS. Leading questions are those that suggest an answer, and are forbidden because the law requires that a witness answer questions honestly and to the extent of their knowledge, rather than pushing for an answer favorable to a party's argument. For example, a leading question may be phrased, "You were at the plaintiff's house on Monday, weren't you?" The appropriate way to pose the same inquiry is, instead, "Where were you on Monday night?"

One exception to this bar on leading questions is in the event of a HOSTILE WITNESS. Such a witness is hostile to the questioner's side of the case and be unwilling to cooperate fully and answer questions responsively and honestly. A party who will be calling a hostile witness to the stand to testify must request that the court declare the witness hostile; if the court does so, leading questions are acceptable if necessary.

Other exceptions to rule, where leading questions are acceptable, include:

  • Preliminary Matters: a witness' name, address, profession, and similar background questions
  • Undisputed Facts: for facts that have already been proven, leading questions may be posed to merely solidify the veracity of such facts
  • Special Witnesses: if a witness has difficulty speaking, or if the witness is a child or a person with limited mental capacity, the court may allow leading questions to elicit a response that is helpful to the case at hand
  • Refreshing Recollection: if it is established that a witness knows the answer to a question being asked but the witness is having difficulty remembering a precise name or address or date, a leading question may provide a "push" to refresh the memory of the witness
Of course, on rare occasions the sides can agree to allow leading questions of the witnesses. This is often for ancillary witnesses that are not called for testimony on any highly disputed issues.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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