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What Is Cross Examination?

black male lawyer in suit asking witness questions in courtroom about what is cross examination

The question, What is cross examination? is a subject of interest to every first-year law student. “Cross examination” is a litigation technique that every lawyer who questions witnesses in court must perfect. Understanding the rules of this process can also be valuable for witnesses who want to know what to expect once they take the stand.

What Is Cross Examination?

Broadly speaking, cross examination is the process of allowing the opposing party’s attorney to question a witness who is testifying in court or via a deposition once they have provided their ‘direct‘ testimony.

What Is the Purpose of Cross Examination?

Ordinarily, the purpose of cross examining a witness is to test the strength of the stories, observations, and opinions that they have provided so that the strength of the case their testimony is supporting can be called into question. This helps to diminish the credibility of a witness.

Successfully challenging the truth of their statements is referred to as ‘impeachment.’ Some lawyers may decide not to cross examine a witness to underscore the idea that their testimony was insignificant and doesn’t warrant additional questioning.

Cross Examination Rules

Attorneys are not bound to ask a certain number of questions, nor are they required to keep their cross examination of a witness to a specific length of time. The rules of cross examination primarily concern the ways in which questions are asked and answered. The attorney whose witness is being cross examined can object to the lawyer who is conducting the witness’s cross examination if they engage in certain behaviors.

Some of the most common objections made during cross examination include:

  • Badgering the witness. If a lawyer who is cross examining a witness becomes unreasonably hostile or argumentative, counsel for the other party can object on the grounds of badgering
  • Asking questions outside the scope of the direct examination. Most of the time, lawyers may not ask a witness questions about matters that were not introduced during the witnesses’ direct examination
  • Relevance. Cross examination questions must be relevant to the matter at hand and to a witness’s personal knowledge
  • Speculation. If a witness doesn’t have knowledge of specific information, a lawyer may not question them about matters that would cause a witness to guess; some exceptions to this rule apply when expert witnesses are testifying about matters within their area of expertise
  • Asked and answered. Lawyers may not ask about a matter repeatedly if a witness has already provided the information requested

Conversely, although not generally permitted during direct examination, leading questions are permitted during cross examination. These questions allow a lawyer to test the credibility of testimony provided upon direct examination in a focused way.

Preparing to Be Cross Examined

If you’re being called as a witness and you’ve been asking What is cross examination? you’re probably wondering if you can refuse to be cross examined. The short answer to this question is No. If you refuse to answer questions during a cross examination, the judge can hold you in ‘contempt of court.’

To make sure that you’re prepared for cross examination, your lawyer should walk you both through what you’ll be asked during your direct examination, and what you’ll likely be asked during cross examination. It’s important to answer only what you’re asked and not elaborate unnecessarily.

You’ll also want to remain respectful of the judge and opposing counsel, otherwise you’ll risk being held in contempt. Finally, be conscious of what your body language and tone are conveying to the jury. For example, if you come across as defensive, that could impact the jury’s perception of you just as much as the content of the answers that you provide on cross examination.

What Is Cross Examination and Why Does It Matter? Learn More Today

Whether you’re struggling with legal troubles or you are likely to be called as a witness in someone else’s case, learning about cross examination can help you to understand what to expect and how to prepare. Discuss the ins and outs of cross examination with a lawyer today.

Related Resources

Do you want to learn more about the legal process? Check out these related resources from the legal team at The Law Dictionary to learn more:


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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