Opening and Closing Statements in Civil Trials

Direct Examination

A direct examination in a jury trial is the questioning of a witness called by an attorney. The answers attempt to produce evidence that supports and explains the case. There are no leading questions permitted in a direct exam. The evidence must be relevant and probative in the case. The attorney must follow the rules of evidence in forming questions and eliciting relevant testimony. Letting the witness tell their own story is essential in an effective direct examination. A witness who is well prepared and provides a complete and full testimony, allows the attorney to present a strong case to the jury. To accomplish this, preparation is vital. Understand all aspects of the case including the subject matter, witness testimony, and evidence. Meet with all witnesses and confirm their testimony. Make sure there are no surprises during direct examination. In the direct examination, build a clear and concise story for the jury.

Cross Examination

A cross examination in a jury trial occurs when an attorney asks questions of a witness after a direct examination. In this type of questioning, the attorney may lead the witness. Leading the witness suggests an answer and addresses only subjects discussed during direct examination. This technique guides the witness’s responses and allows for control of the narrative. It limits the witness’s ability to elaborate. The purpose of cross-examination is to discredit the witness and seek information that supports the case. In discrediting the witness, the attorney will challenge credibility, truthfulness, and inconsistencies. She will look for weaknesses and contradictions in the testimony. In supporting the case, she looks for information that strengthens the case. Impeachment is a strong tool in cross-examination which challenges the credibility of the witness. Prior inconsistent statements between current and prior testimony is very effective in impeaching a witness. Bias of a witness is also effective to show lack of credibility.
To accomplish effective cross-examination, concentrate each question on one fact that you know the answer to. Lead the witness to that answer limiting an explanation. Do not seek an opinion but only specific facts. Either pose questions that build the case or discredit the witness. Preparation is key to a successful cross-examination. It is an excellent opportunity to build the case implementing a well-thought out cross-examination.
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Dennis P. Sawan

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Christopher A. Sawan

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