Respect for cross-examination


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 ​fair​ness​ 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

Delaware

— Marianne Gabel

Delaware

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