Cross-examination is an important step in the legal process of many countries. It involves putting questions to a witness brought forward by the opposing side. These questions are designed to probe the reliability of the witness, as well as to uncover additional information about the case at hand. Typically, cross examination is preceded by direct examination, in which the side which calls the witness questions the witness. In some cases, cross-examination can be followed by a process called redirection, in which the witness is questioned again to clarify points brought up in the cross-examination which might be damaging.
The process of cross-examination is presumed to be necessary because most witnesses come forward to support one side or the other. In the case of the defense, a witness might omit certain information which the prosecution might find interesting or relevant. A prosecution witness might, likewise, omit information. Cross-examination ensures that the trial is fair, and that all information is truly out on the table.
When a witness is questioned, it can seem like an interrogation. Typically, the side which calls the witness leads the witness carefully through a series of questions which may have been reviewed beforehand. The side which has called the witness wants the witness to feel comfortable, and may want to avoid certain topics which could potentially weaken its case. In cross-examination, however, the opposing side may get quite intense and probing, in an attempt to “break” the witness into a startling admission which may change the outcome of the case.
In some countries, a cross-examining lawyer may only bring up things which the witness brought up during the direct examination. For example, if the witness is a forensic examiner and he or she brings up the result of a rape kit in the direct examination, the cross-examining lawyer can ask further questions about the topic. However, if a rape kit is not mentioned, the lawyer may not generally ask about it, unless of course the results have been admitted into evidence.
In other cases, a lawyer may bring up any topics related to the case during cross-examination. Cross-examinations can sometimes reveal very interesting information in this case, since the lawyer does not feel restricted by the previous testimony of the witness. Since witnesses do not often have legal training, they may not always realize that they have admitted until it is too late. This can be rather convenient for the opposing side, since the testimony is admitted into evidence once it is given in court.