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What Exactly is “Cross-Examination?”

By Daniel T. Geherin

Every day, in courtrooms throughout Michigan (and even on Zoom screens during the COVID pandemic), cases are won or lost based on the effective or ineffective cross-examination of witnesses.  What is cross-examination?  It is the questioning of the other side’s witness(es), typically under oath. This questioning often unearths important information, and when done effectively, can slice open the other side’s case. 

Dan Geherin, owner of the Geherin Law Group PLLC, is an ex-prosecutor and board-certified criminal trial attorney in Ann Arbor with over 25+ years’ courtroom experience.  Dan honed his trial and cross-examination skills in the 1990s as a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles County, the biggest and busiest prosecutor’s office in the country.  As a prosecutor, Dan was trained to cross-examine criminal defendants to shake out the truth and prove they were lying or had something to hide. Since 2000, Dan has been a private criminal justice attorney, where he uses his cross-examination skills to question police officers, civilian witnesses and anyone called to testify against his clients in both criminal and civil litigation.  He has conducted over 300 trials, and in every single one, has used cross-examination to help achieve personal justice for his clients.  

Why is effective cross-examination so important? Witnesses often rehearse their testimony with the prosecutor or with their attorney, and they review previous statements to help them “stick with the script.”  It is up to the opponent’s attorney to dig deeper, and to probe areas that prove inconsistency, bias, mistakes and sometimes even deceit. A witness often reveals his or her true character or demeanor when they’re pushed, prodded and confronted about prior inconsistencies. Jurors and judges often make up their minds about a witness’ credibility (and even about the whole case) after watching a cross-examination of a central witness.  

Many attorneys say that cross-examination is their weak spot, and for good reason.  It is really hard, and it takes a lot of training, practice and experience to master it. Some attorneys simply ask the same questions as their opponent, hoping to discover different answers. Great trial attorneys, on the other hand, follow some basic rules of cross-examination to win their cases.  They include:

1.  Only asking questions to which you know the answers.

2. Using leading questions (“You were drinking alcohol that night, correct”) instead of open-ended questions (“Were you drinking that night?”).

3.  Staying within your theme/theory of the case.

4.  Controlling the witness on the stand.  

5.  Preparing vigorously, including thoroughly reviewing all available evidence relevant to the witness’ testimony.  

If you have a criminal justice case in Ann Arbor or throughout Washtenaw County, and want to benefit greatly from having a battle-tested trial attorney with decades of cross-examination experience on your side, please contact Dan Geherin and his firm at GLG Michigan.  They’re available 24/7, and they will put their 25+ years’ courtroom and cross-examination experience to work in protecting your interests. Schedule online at GLGMichigan, or call 24/7 (734) 263-2780.   

GLG Michigan:  A Trial-Based Firm Providing Personal Attention, Personal Results and Personal Justice.