Oregon Civil Litigation: Direct and Cross Examination of a Witness

Joe Di Bartolomeo
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Joe Di Bartolomeo is a top rated personal injury lawyer helping Oregon and Washington families

In a previous article discussing witnesses, we identified the different kinds of witnesses that testify in an Oregon civil injury trial. In this article, we talk about the different methods an attorney can employ to question a witness.

The first kind of witness questioning is referred to as "direct examination." When an attorney is calling his or her own witnesses, that attorney will use direct examination to ask questions, which is actually a requirement. Direct examination simply means that the questions are open ended, and cannot be phrased in a way that suggests an answer. A good rule of thumb for direct examination is to use questions that start with the words "why," "when," or "how." The intent of requiring direct examination is to have the witness testify in his or her own words, making for more honest and reliable testimony.

"Cross-examination" occurs after the witness has completed her direct testimony.  The opposing attorney who did not call the witness will often cross-examine the witness.  It is however, not required.

An attorney is allowed, but not required to, ask "leading questions." A leading question is is a question where the attorney asks the witness whether he or she agrees with a certain factual statement. Common forms of cross-examination questions will start with things like: "isn't it true that…", or "wouldn't you agree that…" The cross examiner can only present one fact that a time when asking a leading question. Otherwise, the witness is being asked to answer two questions at the same time.

Often, a television courtroom drama will include a courtroom scene involving cross examination. However, that type of cross-examination would never be permitted in a real life court because the attorney is being "argumentative." Cross examination must be limited to the facts discussed during the direct examination, and cannot be used as a way to argue the case. That happens at closing argument.

If you are interested in how a personal injury claim may proceed to a trial, and what witness testimony is all about, call us at 503-325-8600. We have been litigating claims in Oregon for over twenty years.