Go Big: As we explain in Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques, the primary purpose of cross-examination is to convince the jury to adopt your case theory and reject your opponents. This is the big picture. To do this, seek concessions that either build upon or protect your own case theory or damage the other side’s. A secondary purpose is to impeach the witness’s credibility as unworthy of belief, thereby damaging your opponent’s case. Cross can be fashioned to produce one or both results. When a witness refuses to concede a fact that must be given because the evidence or common sense proves it to be the truth, the witness is impeached. Of course, if you can gain such significant concessions from the witness that you have turned that witness to your own, remember the big picture—you can forgo impeachment.
In Cross-Examination Handbook, we provide multiple illustrations of cross-examinations that revealed the big picture to the jury. U.S. Attorney Robert Stewart’s devastating cross of an alibi witness in a mega trial of 18 defendant’s known as the ‘Pizza Connection Case.” Bob Dekle’s cross of an expert in Ted Bundy’s last murder trial. U.S. Attorney Robert Stewart’s cross of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for his involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attack. Cross-Examination Handbook goes step by step through how to construct a concession-seeking cross that comports with the cross-examiner’s big objective—building the case or undermining the other side’s case.
Not Small: Nothing is worse than a small, nitpicky cross-examination. It not only bores the jury and makes no headway towards the examiner’s goals but also can turn the jurors against the cross-examiner. A cross should focus on major points and do it without exploring microscopic details. When is it common for cross-examinations to go small? Counsel often will cross a witness on minor inconsistencies between what the witness testified to and a prior statement. Just because the rules of evidence allow for impeachment with a prior inconsistent statement, doesn’t mean it should be pursued. Good judgment is called for. Is it a significant or insignificant matter?
Poor preparation produces picayune points. When an attorney has not thoroughly planned the cross and wings it, that lack of planning often results in that attorney walking through the direct again, picking around the edges. The end result is a cross that repeats the direct and does not promote the cross-examiner’s big picture, is not to the point and is uninteresting.