Direct examination is when you put your witness on the stand to support your case. You put forth evidence, facts, and documents that are consistent with your theory of the case. It’s a good idea to start with your strongest witness. People tend to remember the first things they hear, so start strong. Direct examination is not always easy because you can’t ask leading questions. The witness doesn’t always understand what you are trying to ask them.
Non-leading question will usually start with who, what, where, when, why, or how. They are open-ended questions where you are not suggesting the answer. If you are suggesting the answer, it’s considered a leading question. “What is your name?” is not leading because it doesn’t suggest an answer. “Your name is John Doe, isn’t it?” is leading because you are suggesting the answer. Many attorneys have difficulty framing non-leading questions on direct examination.
If every one of your questions is calling for a lengthy answer, after a few seconds, most jurors won’t pay attention to it. The way to keep a juror’s attention on direct examination is to try to create a rhythm by starting with questions that require a short answer, followed by a long answer. In music, a series of short notes, followed by a long note, keep people’s attention. Ask a series of yes or no questions, then ask for an explanation or elaboration.
The other thing you can do on a direct examination is to use a deductive reasoning approach. Start with very general questions, leading to a specific conclusion. Each question should have one fact. There are other techniques you can learn, such as looping, where you are repeating the first question and adding a new fact in order to have the jury hear certain things over and over again. You want to move from a very general to a very specific conclusion.
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