This Day On The Street
Continue to site right-arrow
ADVERTISEMENT
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
Stocks Under $10 with 50-100% upside potential - 14 days FREE!

How to Handle a Hostile Witness

If a witness is presumed hostile, or declared hostile by the judge, it changes a few things. The most important is the way that the attorney is allowed to ask a hostile witness questions. Normally, an attorney cannot ask its own, non-hostile witnesses leading questions. A leading question is one whose answer is presumed in the question, often answerable with a simple "yes" or "no."

For example, a non-leading question would be, "What color was the light?" A leading question would be, "The light was red, wasn't it?" Leading questions tend to coach the witness because they tell the witness what to say. Non-leading questions force the witness to come up with his or her own answers.

Generally, an attorney may ask leading questions to hostile witnesses only. In normal trials, leading questions are reserved for cross-examining the opposing side's witnesses; all witnesses called by the opposing side are presumed hostile. But, when a judge determines that a witness is hostile, then the attorney who called him may use leading questions to help focus the hostile witness' testimony.

Another effect this has is that it can make the scope of a direct examination difficult to manage. Normally, an attorney asks his own witness non-leading questions, and the witness answers accordingly. But, with leading questions, the attorney is effectively dictating the scope of the testimony because he limits it in the very structure of his questions. To make sure that the testimony stays on topic, a trial judge must use his discretion to limit the attorney's questioning.

Last, determining that a witness is hostile is important for impeachment purposes. In some jurisdictions, a party cannot impeach his own witness, unless that witness is declared hostile. This arises in criminal cases sometimes where a witness gives pretrial statements about a crime, but then changes his testimony at trial because he is scared.

In that situation, an attorney wants to show to the jury that the witness was telling the truth before, but is lying now. In jurisdictions that limit impeachment to hostile witnesses, the attorney would have to establish that the witness is now hostile before evidence of the pretrial statement could be introduced. But, as I mentioned before, declaring a witness hostile is rare. Dramatic, but rare. Most witnesses testify truthfully, and are inherently biased toward the side that called them. Only in rare circumstances does a court need to step in to declare a witness hostile.

Michael Flynn writes and records the Legal Lad articles and pocdasts. A graduate of Tufts University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, he currently works as a research attorney for a California trial court.

Disclaimer: Please note that the legal information featured in Legal Lad articles and podcasts is presented for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, Michael Flynn's name is only being provided for authorship purposes, and not to advertise any legal services. To request a topic or share a tip, send an email to legallad@qdnow.com or call 206-202-4LAW.

2 of 2

Select the service that is right for you!

COMPARE ALL SERVICES
Action Alerts PLUS
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
  • Weekly roundups
TheStreet Quant Ratings
Try it NOW
Only $49.95/yr

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
  • Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Stocks Under $10
Try it NOW

David Peltier, uncovers low dollar stocks with extraordinary upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
  • Weekly roundups
Dividend Stock Advisor
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
  • Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Real Money Pro
Try it NOW

All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.

Product Features:
  • Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
  • Intraday commentary & news
  • Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Options Profits
Try it NOW

Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • 100+ monthly options trading ideas
  • Actionable options commentary & news
  • Real-time trading community
  • Options TV
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
Submit an article to us!

Markets

DOW 18,053.71 +23.50 0.13%
S&P 500 2,088.77 +6.89 0.33%
NASDAQ 4,806.8590 +33.3870 0.70%

Brokerage Partners

Rates from Bankrate.com

  • Mortgage
  • Credit Cards
  • Auto

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs