Wednesday, April 26, 2023

CROSS-EXAMINATION: Poor Preparation Produces Picayune Points

Go Big: As we explain in Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques, the primary purpose of cross-examination is to convince the jury to adopt your case theory and reject your opponents. This is the big picture. To do this, seek concessions that either build upon or protect your  own case theory or damage the other side’s. A secondary purpose is to impeach the witness’s credibility as unworthy of belief, thereby damaging your opponent’s case. Cross can be fashioned to produce one or both results. When a witness refuses to concede a fact that must be given because the evidence or common sense proves it to be the truth, the witness is impeached.  Of course, if you can gain such significant concessions from the witness that you have turned that witness to your own, remember the big picture—you can forgo impeachment. 

In Cross-Examination Handbook, we provide multiple illustrations of cross-examinations that revealed the big picture to the jury. U.S. Attorney Robert Stewart’s devastating cross of an alibi witness in a mega trial of 18 defendant’s known as the ‘Pizza Connection Case.” Bob Dekle’s cross of an expert in Ted Bundy’s last murder trial. U.S. Attorney Robert Stewart’s cross of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for his involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Cross-Examination Handbook goes step by step through how to construct a concession-seeking cross that comports with the cross-examiner’s big objective—building the case or undermining the other side’s case.

Not Small: Nothing is worse than a small, nitpicky cross-examination. It not only bores the jury and makes no headway towards the examiner’s goals but also can turn the jurors against the cross-examiner. A cross should focus on major points and do it without exploring microscopic details. When is it common for cross-examinations to go small? Counsel often will cross a witness on minor inconsistencies between what the witness testified to and a prior statement. Just because the rules of evidence allow for impeachment with a prior inconsistent statement, doesn’t mean it should be pursued. Good judgment is called for. Is it a significant or insignificant matter? 

Poor preparation produces picayune points. When an attorney has not thoroughly planned the cross and wings it, that lack of planning often results in that attorney walking through the direct again, picking around the edges. The end result is a cross that repeats the direct and does not promote the cross-examiner’s big picture, is not to the point and is uninteresting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Cross-Examination Impeachment with Visuals


At Seattle University Law School I teach an online course entitled “Visual Litigation and Today’s Technology". Cross-examination visuals are featured because they can be extremely powerful weapons for cross-examination. They can be used to gain concessions supporting your case theory and undermining the other side’s case theory. 

The text for the course is my book Visual Litigation: Visual Communication Strategies and Today’s Technology, published by Full Court Press, the publishing arm of Fastcase. The text offers examples of how visuals were used on cross-examination in notable cases, such as Abraham Lincoln’s cross-examination with a Farmer’s Almanac or the prosecutor’s cross-examination of Richard Hauptmann in the Lindbergh kidnapping/murder case with a ransom note and Hauptmann’s diary.

Visuals can also be very effective for impeaching a witness. For examples, impeachment visuals can include: a prior inconsistent statement either in a document or in a visual, such as a video deposition; a prior conviction—judgment and sentence document; a visual that establishes that the witness did not have personal knowledge about that which the witness testified; a visual that proves that the witness’s testimony is improbable; a visual that reveals the witness’s bias or interest; and a statement in a learned treatise that conflicts with the witness’s testimony.

“Visual Litigation and Today’s Technology” is a 2-credit course. In this Visual Litigation and Today's Technology online course, students interested in litigation learn how to integrate technology into their trial visual presentations. Just as visuals and technology have become a centerpiece in modern life, they also are the centerpiece in trial. Judges and jurors expect lawyers to use visuals with today’s technology.

The course is taught in the context of mock civil and criminal cases, giving students simulated real-world experiences working with visuals and cutting-edge technology. This experiential course will allow students in role-play assignments to plan the cross-examination of witnesses with visuals. 

This course is comprehensive in its exploration of visual communication strategies and technology, including, among other topics: the ethical and legal boundaries to what visuals may be displayed in trial; evidentiary foundations for visuals (animations, demonstrations, laser scanner images and so on); visual advocacy in both a pretrial venue and a courtroom, from opening statement through closing argument; the creation of visuals; litigation software, such as Sanction, TrialPad, and SmartDraw; and meeting the trial judge's expectations of a trial lawyer's competency when employing technology.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023


No matter what you might think of F. Lee Bailey, he was a renowned cross-examiner.  This F. Lee Bailey’s pointer on cross-examination to keep the cross-examination questions moving along at a quick clip so that the witness doesn’t have time to concoct answers, is an excellent tip. As he pointed out being wedded to notes can slow down the pace. 

Moving at a fast pace, but not running over a witness, is a tenet that applies particularly well to the cross of an expert witness who will fill the air if counsel permits it. Nothing is more painful to observe than a lawyer who turns away from the expert on the stand and returns to counsel table, allowing the expert to expound in the vacuum provided by the lawyer who turned a back to a professional witness.  

Watch the video of Bailey’s cross-examination of Mark Furhman in the O. J. Simpson case to see how he kept the examination moving at a rapid pace. 


Thursday, April 6, 2023

Cross-Examination Common Error, a Rookie Mistake


It is probably the most common error, a rookie mistake - the cross-examiner has the witness repeat their direct examination. Question: “On direct examination you told this jury that . . .” 

The error is grievous. It violates Irving Younger’s 7th commandment: “Don't allow the witness to repeat his direct testimony.” Younger’s commandment directs the cross-examiner  to focus on accomplishing the goals of cross-examination which are to gain concessions that either bolster the cross-examiner’s case theory or undermine the opposing party’s case theory. If the cross-examiner instead allows or causes the witness to repeat the direct examination which contains things favorable to the opposing party, the examiner is defeating the purposes of cross. Worse than that, the examiner is repeating the information which the jury has already heard and that repetition will make it stick in the jurors’ minds. 

The Cause

Why would a cross-examiner ever have the witness repeat their direct examination? Why is it such a common mistake? The usual cause is poor preparation. Rather than having a well planned cross-examination, the cross-examiner mistakenly believes that it is possible to conduct a successful unscripted cross. Counsel has been taking notes during the direct examination and works off them to conduct the cross-examination.  Consequently, the examiner is reacting to what the witness testified to on direct, and thus repeats the direct examination. And, the examiner often does so in the order in which opposing counsel questioned the witness. 

The Cure

The cure that will prevent the cross-examiner from repeating the direct is to remember the core idea of cross-examination: Cross-examination is the cross-examiner’s opportunity to testify. Rarely if ever should cross-examination be done on the fly. It must be scripted to be effective. The examiner should know what the witness will testify to and that the examination will produce the desired responses.

The Two Exceptions

There are two exceptions to the rule that the cross should never repeat the direct. First, in those situations where the witness on direct testifies to information damaging to the other side’s case (such as when the other side it trying to pull the sting that is anticipated to be brought out on cross) or helpful to the cross-examiner’s case, then naturally it may be covered on cross. Second, in the odd case where the witness has been coached and memorized their testimony, the cross-examiner may want the witness to repeat direct. An example happened during the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire trial when defense counsel’s cross revealed that a witness had been coached to give a memorized story by having the witness repeatedly tell her story in identical words during cross.

Sunday, April 2, 2023


 Even when you are equipped with the skills and strategies covered in Cross-Examination Handbook, they will not be enough to do damage to the credibility of a tough witness. A tough witness is one who is armed with the truth and has been thoroughly prepared to testify at trial. The best that you can accomplish with a tough witness is to elicit concessions that either support your case theory or undermine the other side’s case theory. 

What will a veteran, skilled trial lawyer have done to prepare a witness? It pays to know what you are up against when you plan to cross-examine that tough witness who has been well prepared for your cross.

What is entailed in the thorough preparation of a witness? The following is an indispensable checklist along with notes for thorough and effective witness preparation that you can use when you prepare your witness. And, when you come up against the tough witness, you know that able opposing counsel has relied upon a similar checklist. 

Preparation for the courthouse and courtroom:

Courthouse – where is it? Note: It is not unheard of that a witness will go to the wrong courthouse or courtroom. Tell your witness not only where the courthouse is but also where the courtroom is located.
Courtroom Layout. Notes: Much of your witness preparation is designed to familiarize the witness with everything. Most people have a fear of the unknown, and this preparation can alleviate some of that fear. Either show the witness a diagram of the courtroom or take the witness to the courtroom. If you have a child witness, definitely take the child to the courtroom, have the child sit in the witness chair and otherwise learn about the courtroom. Tell the witness who the courtroom players are and where they will be positioned in the courtroom, such as where the clerk, bailiff and court reporter are situated (except for the defendant in a criminal case which could result in a mistrial).
Don’ts: Notes: Tell the witness not to discuss case in or around the courthouse. because jurors may be on the street around the courthouse or in the halls or on the elevator. Instruct the witness to not enter the courtroom until summoned because witnesses are excluded. This does not apply to the client(s) and to the detective in a criminal case.

Preparation on the witness’s role and substance:

Witness’s Role. Notes: Tell your witness to tell the truth. If it hurts, tell the truth. Tell your witness that the only instruction that you have given them regarding what to say is—tell  the truth. Ask the witness, “What damaging information is out there?” You need to know because only if you know what it is, can you deal with it.
Review Prior Witness Statements. Notes: Have the witness review all prior witness statements that the witness has given. Tell the witness before the witness goes over the statement that the witness should not feel wed to what is in the statement. If there is something erroneous, the witness should let you know.
Cover the Witness’s Story. Notes: Go over the witness’s story in detail and probe for any weaknesses. If there is a weakness, have the witness explain. Witnesses are commonly not good at estimating things like time and distance. Go over this. For example, if the witness says that the two individuals were five feet apart, have the witness show you how far they were apart using objects in the room.
Practice Direct Examination. Notes: Walk through it. Practice with exhibits and demonstrations
Practice Cross-Examination. Notes: Explain to the witness that you are going to step into opposing counsel’s shoes and conduct a cross-examination (you may have another colleague do it). Ask tough questions that you expect from the other side. Tell your witness not to worry about cross-examination because the witness is telling the truth.

Preparing the Witness on How to Testify:

MRPC 3.4(b) prohibits coaching to testify falsify. Notes: However, you can help the witness be a good communicator. Help the witness be Confident, Clear and Credible. 
1.  Have a Good Appearance. Notes: Tell the witness to dress appropriately for court. When sitting in the witness chair, the witness should have good posture—sit up straight.  Speak clearly, and here you can explain the role of the court reporter and the need to speak clearly and not to rapidly. The witness should avoid distracting habits, such as chewing gum or fiddling with a pen.
2.  Courtroom Rules. Notes: Tell the witness that if there is an objection, stop talking and listen for directions regarding what is to be done next. Tell the witness that if they can’t remember something, say so. And, explain how you may seek to refresh recollection if the witness can’t recall and the procedure for refreshing recollection.
3.  Communication on Direct. Notes: Tell your witness that only the jury counts, and that the witness should talk to them. If court procedures permit, explain that you will stand at the end of the jury box so that the witness will be looking down the jury box towards you. Tell the witness that this courtroom positioning is intended to remind the witness both to speak up so the furthest away jurors can hear and to look the jurors in the eyes and talk to them as though they were having coffee together. Tell the witness that the jurors have no axe to grind with the witness and they are just trying to learn the truth, which the witness will deliver.
4.  Communication on Cross. Notes: Discuss keeping composure on cross. You can explain that the witness should never get cute or argue with the questioner. To assist the witness with that endeavor, you can explain that while the witness will not be able to address the jury after testifying, counsel may and in doing so, counsel can comment on the witness’s lack of composure and how the witness’s demeanor showed the witness was not credible. Explain that contrary to direct examination when the witness should look at the jurors, during cross, the witness should look directly at counsel. Instruct the witness listen carefully to the question that is asked and answer it directly. Don’t volunteer information.