The column “What makes a good witness” by County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien (July 7) is a good discussion of how to prepare a witness to testify in a trial; for example, dress respectfully, don’t “guess” when answering a question. It is advice that attorneys on both sides follow in criminal, divorce, and other kinds of trials.
As Ms. O’Brien says, the goal of a trial is to find the truth. Each side wants the jury or judge to see the truth of “what happened” their way, and witness preparation is a way to do that. The questioner asks careful questions to get answers that will support the case.
The other side is then allowed to “cross-examine” that witness. It’s an essential step in any trial. Unfortunately, Ms. O’Brien’s column describes cross-examination of the prosecutor’s witness by the defense as an attempt “to undercut the testimony to minimize its impact” or to “trip up” the witness. This makes cross-examination sound sneaky, like a bad thing.
But in any trial — divorces, traffic accident cases, any kind of dispute — it’s basic fairness that the other side gets to ask the unasked questions, probe for additional information, test the witness’s memory and point out inconsistencies. It ensures that the judge or jury has information to weigh that comes from both sides.
Cross-examination, a right guaranteed to all parties, is an essential part of the legal system. It should be respected for its value in the search for the truth.
— Marianne Gabel
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