In Massachusetts courtrooms and others around the country, it is not uncommon for attorneys to ask questions to witnesses that are considered leading. By definition, a leading question is one in which the attorney uses specific words and phrases that lead the witness to provide the answer they want. A clever attorney could coerce a witness to testify for them if leading questions are used correctly.
This type of questioning is not always allowed in criminal defense trials. When an attorney is questioning their own witnesses, they are not allowed to use leading questions. Instead, they are required to ask questions that allow for a more free and elaborate response from the witness.
However, utilizing these types of open-ended questions can result in long, narrative answers that take up too much time in a courtroom. Therefore, there are instances where a judge will allow leading questions. Examples are when the attorney is asking about information that is not contested or when a witness is struggling intellectually to provide answers to questions.
Judges will also typically allow leading questions with the witness becomes hostile. A hostile, adverse witness is one that might sympathize with the other side and be reluctant to provide answers that might disclose truth.
During cross-examination, leading questions are allowed. The attorney will utilize leading questions to scrutinize the reliability of a witness’s answers provided under direct examination. This is only one of the many strategies used by attorneys to elicit the response they want in the courtroom.
Those on trial for criminal offenses can be sentenced to many different punishments and penalties if convicted. Consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney could help to ensure all policies and procedures are followed before, during and after the trial and work hard to make sure the defendant’s rights are protected.