What Questions Do Defense Attorneys Ask Witnesses? A Guide for Lawyers and Law Students

Defense attorneys are lawyers who represent people accused of crimes.

They have the duty to protect the rights of their clients and to present the best possible defense for them.

Cross Examination Techniques With Example Cross-Examinations Michael Waddington, Attorney at Law Cross Examination Techniques With ...
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One of the ways they do this is by questioning witnesses during a trial. Witnesses are people who have some knowledge or information about the case, such as eyewitnesses, experts, or victims.

Defense attorneys can question witnesses during two phases of a trial: direct examination and cross-examination.

ALSO READ: Can a Defense Attorney Contact a Witness? Exploring the Ethical and Legal Boundaries

Direct Examination

Direct examination is when the defense attorney questions their own witnesses, who are usually favorable to the defense.

The purpose of direct examination is to elicit testimony that supports the defense’s theory of the case, such as showing that the defendant is innocent, acted in self-defense, or had an alibi.

Defense attorneys will often ask short, open-ended questions that allow the witness to tell their story in their own words.

For example, a defense attorney might ask their witness:

  • Can you describe the defendant’s demeanor on the day of the incident?
  • Did the defendant seem intoxicated or under the influence of drugs?
  • What was the defendant wearing at the time?
  • Did the defendant say anything to you before or after the incident?
  • What is your relationship to the defendant?
  • Do you have any reason to lie or be biased against the defendant?


Cross-examination is when the defense attorney questions the prosecution’s witnesses, who are usually unfavorable to the defense.

The purpose of cross-examination is to challenge the credibility, reliability, or accuracy of the witness’s testimony, such as showing that the witness is lying, mistaken, or biased.

Defense attorneys will often ask pointed, direct, or leading questions that suggest the answer they want to hear.

For example, a defense attorney might ask the prosecution’s witness:

  • How long ago did the incident occur?
  • Were you under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time?
  • What was your exact location when you saw the incident?
  • How many people were there?
  • Did you get a good look at the defendant?
  • Weren’t you angry with the victim when the incident occurred?
  • Didn’t you see the victim hit first?
  • Weren’t you afraid that the victim was going to hurt you?

What if witnesses are lying?

If witnesses are lying, it can be very difficult to prove their dishonesty in court.

However, there are some methods that lawyers and investigators can use to detect and expose lies, such as:

1.Comparing the witness’s testimony with other evidence, such as documents, records, video footage, or physical clues.

If there are inconsistencies or contradictions, the witness’s credibility can be challenged.

For example, a witness who claims to have seen a crime from a certain location can be contradicted by a video camera that shows a different view

2.Asking specific, detailed, and probing questions that require the witness to recall or explain their statements.

If the witness is lying, they may have trouble remembering or inventing details, or they may give vague, evasive, or illogical answers.

For example, a witness who claims to have heard a conversation between two people can be asked to repeat the exact words, tone, and context of the dialogue

3.Observing the witness’s verbal and nonverbal behavior during the questioning.

While there is no definitive sign of lying, some indicators may suggest deception, such as hesitation, stuttering, repetition, changes in voice pitch or volume, nervousness, tension, fidgeting, or avoiding eye contact.

However, these indicators are not reliable and can vary depending on the individual, the situation, and the culture.

Therefore, they should be used with caution and in combination with other evidence

4.Using psychological techniques or tools that measure the witness’s physiological or emotional responses, such as polygraph tests, voice stress analysis, or facial expression analysis. T

hese methods are based on the assumption that lying causes stress or arousal that can be detected by changes in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, skin conductance, or facial muscle movements.

However, these methods are also not foolproof and can be affected by various factors, such as the witness’s personality, motivation, training, or medication.

Moreover, these methods are often not admissible in court or require the witness’s consent

Therefore, detecting and proving lies is not an easy task and requires careful preparation, investigation, and analysis. It also requires being aware of the limitations and pitfalls of different methods and avoiding biases or assumptions that may cloud the judgment.

The best way to expose a liar in court is to listen and pay attention to the witness’s words and actions, and to compare them with the facts and logic of the case.


Defense attorneys ask questions to witnesses in order to build their case and to weaken the prosecution’s case.

They use different types of questions depending on whether they are conducting direct examination or cross-examination.

Defense attorneys must follow the rules of evidence and procedure when questioning witnesses, and they must also be prepared to deal with objections from the prosecution or the judge.

By asking effective questions, defense attorneys can persuade the judge or jury to find their client not guilty or to reduce the charges or the sentence.

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