Cross-Examination Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Cross-Examination, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Cross-Examination?

Questioning by the attornies to the witnesses of the opponent parties. Usually the questions are related to direct examination only and in some cases a leading question may be asked which is an answer in itself to confirm certain points.

History and Meaning of Cross-Examination

Cross-examination is a fundamental component of the legal system in which an attorney questions a witness called by the opposing party. The purpose of cross-examination is to challenge or clarify the statements made on direct examination and to elicit new information or admissions from the witness. Historically, the right to cross-examination has been established as a fundamental component of due process for the accused in criminal trials and the right to a fair trial in civil proceedings.

The use of cross-examination dates back to ancient Roman law and has developed over time through common law traditions. The technique of cross-examination is taught in law schools around the world and has become a hallmark of the adversarial legal system in many jurisdictions.

Examples of Cross-Examination

  1. In a criminal trial, the prosecution calls a witness to testify that they saw the defendant commit the crime. The defense attorney then cross-examines the witness to expose any inconsistencies or biases in their testimony.
  2. In a divorce case, a spouse may call a witness to testify about the other spouse's behavior. The opposing attorney will cross-examine the witness to challenge their credibility and the accuracy of their statements.
  3. In a personal injury case, the plaintiff's attorney may call a medical expert to testify about the extent of the plaintiff's injuries. The defendant's attorney will cross-examine the expert to challenge their qualifications and the validity of their opinions.

Legal Terms Similar to Cross-Examination

  1. Direct Examination - the initial questioning of a witness by the attorney who called them to testify.
  2. Leading Question - a question that suggests the answer and is often not allowed during direct examination but may be allowed during cross-examination.
  3. Redirect Examination - the opportunity for the attorney who called the witness to ask follow-up questions after cross-examination.