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Tips For A Defendant Undergoing Cross Examination

Trenton Criminal Defense Lawyer

As a defendant, you have a constitutional right against self-incrimination. Put simply, this means that a defendant is not obligated to testify. This is where the commonly heard phrase “I plead the Fifth” comes from.

Only your Trenton criminal defense lawyer can recommend whether it is in your best interest to take the stand or not. Depending on the unique facts and circumstances of the case, the defense strategy, the defendant’s courtroom demeanor, and the jury, sometimes it is best for the defendant not to testify. In other instances, with all these factors considered, it may be to the defendant’s detriment not to testify. But one very important thing to note if you take the stand: you will have to withstand cross examination.

Cross Examination Of A Defendant

Direct examination is when a lawyer questions his own witness. Direct examinations must include open ended questions that do not imply a particular answer. These usually include who, what, where, when, and how types of questions. Afterwards, the opposing attorney is permitted to ask his own questions of that witness. This is called cross examination. There are different rules when crossing a witness, including:

  • Leading questions are allowed. Instead of the who, what, where, when questions, attorneys usually begin their question with phrases such as “Isn’t it true that…” or “You would agree that…” They ask questions that suggest an answer.
  • Must be within the scope of direct examination. Generally speaking, cross examination must be based on the subject matter brought up on direct.

What should you expect if you take the stand in your own defense? Keep these pointers in mind.

  1. Hollywood does not accurately portray real life courtroom situations. Movies tend to increase the drama for entertainment purposes. Very rarely is opposing counsel shouting at the defendant with shocking revelations, leading the defendant to admit to the crime under the intense pressure of questioning. In reality, an attorney’s cross examination tends to be methodical, well-planned out, and aimed at exposing inconsistencies or stirring up doubt in the jury members’ minds.
  2. You should be prepared, but don’t come off as rehearsed. An experienced Trenton criminal defense lawyer should prepare you for what questions you may face on cross examination. While he or she cannot give you answers to those potential questions, you should think about what information you want to give to the jury in order for them to understand your situation. Don’t attempt to memorize canned answers – this will come off as disingenuous.
  3. LISTEN to the question being asked. It’s common to feel nervous and focus on what you plan on saying. But don’t make the mistake of tuning out the question! Listen carefully to the question, and only answer what is being asked. Do not offer additional information. If you don’t understand a question, you are allowed to ask that it be repeated or rephrased. And if you don’t know the answer or genuinely don’t remember, those are acceptable answers. No one wants you to guess.

Need A Trenton Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Mark Catanzaro is a well-respected, experienced criminal defense lawyer in Trenton who wants to represent you in your criminal matters! Don’t take on the stress of this experience alone. Call now to schedule your free consultation.


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