Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of cross-examination


  1. In trials, each party calls witnesses. Each party may also question the other's witness(es). When you ask questions of the other party's witness(es), it is called a "cross-examination" and you are allowed considerably more latitude in cross-examination then when you question your own witnesses (called an "examination-in-chief").

    Example: You are not allowed to ask leading questions to your own witness whereas you can in cross-examination.

Definition of cross-examination

Alternative spellings


cross-examination (plural cross-examinations)

  1. (law) The interrogating or questioning of a witness by the party against whom he or she has been called and examined. See examination.

Further reading

In law, cross-examination is the interrogation of a witness called by one's opponent. It is preceded by direct examination (in England, Australia, Canada, India and Pakistan known as examination-in-chief) and may be followed by a redirect (re-examination in England, Australia, Canada, India and Pakistan).

In the United States, the cross-examining attorney is typically not permitted to ask questions which do not pertain to the facts revealed in direct examination. This is called going beyond the scope of the direct examination. This does not apply in England, Australia, and Canada, where once a witness is called the opponent's lawyer can ask any question relevant to the issues in the trial.

Since a witness called by the opposing party is presumed to be hostile, cross examination does permit leading questions.[1] A witness called by the direct examiner, on the other hand, may only be treated as hostile by that examiner after being permitted to do so by the judge, at the request of that examiner and as a result of the witness being openly antagonistic and/or prejudiced against the opposing party.[2]

The main purposes of cross-examination are to elicit favorable facts from the witness, or to impeach the credibility of the testifying witness to lessen the weight of unfavourable testimony. Cross-examination frequently produces critical evidence in trials, especially if a witness contradicts previous testimony. The advocate Edward Marshall-Hall built his career on cross-examination which often involved histrionic outbursts designed to sway jurors.


  1. "What is a hostile witness?"
  2. Ehrhardt, Charles W. and Stephanie J. Young, "Using Leading Questions During Direct Examination," (Florida State University Law Review, 1996). (accessed November 26, 2008).

External links


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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