Cross-examination methods for all cases

When cross-examining witnesses at the preliminary hearing, your criminal defense attorney must determine the best way to organize the questions, which question to ask first, which to ask second, and so on. One general approach is to use a “funneling” technique. That is, the criminal event is presented as a series of chronologically arranged chapters in a story.

Your defense attorney can then establish the setting for each chapter (when, where, and who made up the cast of characters), unless this was already done direct examination. Your attorney can ask general questions with respect to each chapter, funneling down to more specific questions. Any of those specific questions may turn out to be crucial for your defense.

Usually, questions will focus on certain details that are most important based on the criminal law and on your attorney’s interview with you, view of the scene and other investigations. The important details are the ones that set up a suppression motion or some trial defense, such as consent, or the ones that show that you behaved cooperatively, unlike someone who had something to hide.

Questions should proceed in a logical, chronological order, rather than jumping back and forth. When questions are in chronological order, the magistrate can see progress toward an endpoint, and so will be more likely to let the cross-examination continue. The magistrate could cut questioning short if it seemed the examination was not moving along.

Your attorney will want to listen for and explore issues that the witness raises rather than sticking to a preset agenda. For example, your attorney will look for uncertainties suggested by “I guess” or “I think” or “to the best of my recollection” answers.