If You Are Called to Be a Witness
Parties to a lawsuit are entitled to call witnesses to testify. Witnesses are sworn to tell the truth.
The attorney who calls a witness will ask questions designed to bring out answers which support the facts his/her side is trying to prove. This is called direct examination.
Sometimes the attorney may call the opposing party, or someone connected with the other side. Such a witness is called an adverse witness or hostile witness. The attorney is permitted to cross-examine an adverse witness, just as if that witness had been called by the other side.
Cross-examination is questioning of a witness by the attorney for the other side, after direct examination is completed. Its purpose is to bring out additional information about the witness’ testimony, or reliability, which may affect the juror’s impressions or understanding of, or reliance on, what the witness testified to on direct examination.
When cross-examination is completed, the attorney who called the witness may ask further questions to clarify points raised in cross- examination. This is called redirect examination.
Questioning of witnesses is conducted under rules designed to insure fairness to the parties. For instance, a witness generally may testify about things he/she knows first hand. The witness is generally not permitted to say what someone else said happened, (the “hearsay” rule), because the witness doesn’t know firsthand what happened, only what he/she was told.
During the examination of a witness, an attorney may object if the attorney for the other side asks a question he/she thinks is improper under the rules. If the Judge agrees that the question was improper, the Judge will sustain the objection, and the witness is not permitted to answer. If the Judge considers the question a proper one, he/she will overrule the objection and permit the witness to answer.
A witness must answer a proper question, and is permitted to answer that question only. If the witness goes beyond a direct answer to the question, the attorney asking the question may object. The Judge may direct the jury to disregard an improper statement by a witness. When this happens, you must exclude that particular testimony from your consideration in the case.
You should pay close attention to each witness. Remember, you will be deciding the case on the basis of what you hear and see in the courtroom. If there is conflict between the testimonies of different witnesses, you may have to decide which to believe.
If at any time you do not hear a question of an answer clearly do not hesitate to interrupt and tell the Judge that you did not hear.
When the Plaintiff’s attorney (in a civil case) or the Prosecuting attorney (in a criminal case) has finished presenting evidence, that side will rest. Then the Defendant’s attorney may present witnesses and evidence, but is not required to do so. If the defense has produced evidence, the Plaintiff’s attorney (or Prosecuting attorney) may, but is not required to, offer witnesses and evidence in rebuttal to explain or deny the evidence produced by the Defendant.