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5 Tips for Acing Cross Examination

You calmly stroll up to the front of the courtroom and glance at the witness squirming on the stand. He doesn’t know what he’s in for—you have got the perfect set of questions to rip his story to shreds. You’re a shark in the water and he’s the beachgoer who’s swum too far from shore. You straighten your tie, give small thumbs up to your team, and launch into your cross.

A couple minutes later, you slump down in your chair. How did he evade those questions? Why did I get so tongue-tied? What went wrong!?

Cross examination is one of the hardest parts of mock trial to master. You need to be able to control a hostile witness while getting out the information for which you are looking. Fortunately, we have some tips for the next time you go toe-to-toe with an opposing witness.

  • Sound Confident: Nothing ruins a cross faster than a meek performance. You have to convince the judge that you are in control no matter what happens. That means stand tall, keep your voice loud, and never react negatively to an answer you were not expecting.

  • Be Theatrical: It’s not just witnesses who act in mock trial. Cross examination is a lawyer’s time to step into the spotlight. When you are making a big point, look at the jury. Exaggerate your tone of voice. Find your inner Jack McCoy.

  • Never—NEVER—ask an open ended question: If you give a witness any question that does not ask for a yes or no answer, be prepared for a long—and I mean “Shakespearean monologue” long—answer from the witness. Don’t give them that chance.

  • Keep everything short: The golden rule for crosses is brevity. The shorter the whole cross is, the more you can focus on the most damaging points and the less the witness can fight you. Try to keep your cross focused on the three most damaging points for the witness. You also want to keep your questions short. This will help avoid confusion and will give the witness less room to fight. If a direct examination is a slow campaign, a cross examination is a quick raid—get in, do your damage, and get out.

  • Control the witness: Remember—this is your examination! You are asking the questions. To that end, if a witness starts fighting you, don’t be afraid to respond with, “So that’s a yes to my question?” or “Mr. Witness, yes or no, (repeat question)?” If things get truly bad, you can ask the judge to strike any testimony that is not responsive to the question.

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