A Quick Guide to Direct Examination

For Lawyers:
The direct is your opportunity to bring out important points for your side. Make sure you
cover both the strengths and the weaknesses – you want to emphasize the positives for
your side, and minimize the negatives by allowing your witness to deflate points before
cross-examination. In general, a direct should work like a conversation between two
people, in which the lawyer asks all the questions and the witness gives only answers.
You should listen to what your witness says, and base your next question on the witness’s
response to the last question, so that it flows smoothly. For example:
Witness: … the afternoon of March 12th.
Attorney: What did you do that afternoon?
Witness: I went to the grocery store to get some beans, and while I was there
I saw Jim acting strangely.
Attorney: What was strange about Jim's behavior?
Witness: He was pointing a gun at Bob, and screaming, "I'll kill you!"
Attorney: So, you saw Jim, pointing a gun at Bob. Did he do anything else?
Witness: He shot Bob in the head.
General format for a direct is: introduction of the witness, witness’s background
information, explanation of witness’s connection with the crime, then
facts/details/opinions about the crime. The questions must be open ended, non-leading
questions. In other words, you should in no way suggest an answer with your questions.
Examples of Leading Questions (What Not to Do on Direct):
- Did you see Mr./Ms. Thornhill after she came off of the elevator?
- You were on guard then, weren’t you?
- So you wanted money then, is that right?
Examples of Open-Ended Questions (What to Ask on Direct):
- What happened next?
- Who, if anyone, did you see then?
- Where were you at that time?
Furthermore, a good direct should not be in any way objectionable. If it is, you should
have a good answer (citing a rule of evidence) for the possible objection. (You don’t
need to worry about the rules of evidence for try-outs.)

For Witnesses:
The direct, for you, is somewhat like your big speech – it is your turn to shine. During
the direct, you should really bring out your witness’s character – his or her accent, quirks,
personality, etc. The emphasis is on you, not your lawyer. Know your facts, and tell
your story. You and your lawyer should be very familiar with the direct examination, but
the trick is for it to be well rehearsed without appearing to be rehearsed. You should
know what comes next, and in what order you are bringing up facts. Additionally, while
you should look to your affidavit for language style, you should NOT quote the affidavit
verbatim. Remember – this is a conversation, and you should give your answers as you
would in any normal conversation. Most importantly – be natural, and really become
your witness, so that your answers are confident and appropriate. An advanced trick is to
provoke the next question at the end of your meaningful answers:
Attorney: What did you see?
Witness: Well, obviously I saw the blood. It was everywhere. And the
shoes, and the bedding, but that wasn’t it.
Attorney: What do you mean? (alternatively, What else was there?)
A Quick Guide to Direct Examination
Michael Ramos-Lynch
For Lawyers:
In a trial, cross-examination immediately follows the direct examination. If you are a
cross-examining attorney, you should write your cross ahead of time. It is not merely a
rebuttal of the direct, and unlike some high school programs, the cross is NOT limited to
the scope of the direct. Look through the affidavit of the witness you are crossing, and
determine what points are clearly helpful to your side. (Ex: the witness can verify the
whereabouts of one of your side’s witnesses.) Next, look at points that are harmful to the
other side. (Ex: the witness says something bad about another witness on their side.) If
necessary and relevant, anything in your crossing witness’s affidavit that discredits him
or her is good to bring out as well. You will know what you will ask on cross before
trial. However, your cross may change slightly, depending on the direct examination of
that witness. You can never know exactly what a lawyer will ask, so be listening
carefully to the direct to make sure you don’t need to add or leave out a few questions.
Remember to ask LEADING questions. The witness’s answer should be limited to yes or
no by the question. Also, keep the questions fairly simple – only one question at a time,
and the shorter the questions the better. It is important to be firm with your witness, but
be careful about how aggressive your cross becomes. You never want to sound like you
are yelling at or arguing with a witness.
- You were on the 30th floor at 8:45 PM, weren’t you?
- The defendant was wearing, black, right?
- Her shirt wasn’t white, was it?
- And there was nothing blocking your view of her?
NEVER EVER ASK A QUESTION that is open ended or allows the witness to go into a
lengthy explanation, such as any question beginning with “why”.
For Witnesses:
The cross examination is not an attack on you – it is merely an examination from a
different perspective. However, you will need to think quickly and answer questions
carefully and cleverly. You don’t have to make sure you only agree or disagree with
everything the crossing lawyer asks you – be confident of your observations and
opinions. Remember what is helpful and hurtful for your side, and if you can, skew your
answers in favor of your side, but don’t contradict your affidavit or blatantly invent facts.
The only time you are not bound by your affidavit is if the crossing lawyer asks you
something completely outside of your affidavit (but you still cannot contradict yourself).
Memorize your affidavits carefully and plan ahead for potential problem areas. Also, you
are entitled to explain all answers. Remember – if you can’t answer a question with just a
yes or no, say so.

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