At some point in your career, you may come up against hostile witnesses.
A hostile witness is a witness that you call who ends up becoming "hostile" to your cause. If this is the case, a court may deem the witness hostile and you will have to update your strategy on how to handle the witness. Otherwise, your questioning could lead to unwanted answers that seriously damage your case.
Here are three strategies to handle a hostile witness, as reported by The Street.
- Ask Leading Questions. Unlike questioning of friendly witnesses, you are allowed to ask leading questions of hostile witnesses. A leading question is a question that elicits a "yes" or "no" answer. These questions are not allowed with friendly witnesses out of concern that the attorney will coach the witness into an answer. But with a hostile witness, a leading question can be very useful in getting the answer you want.
- Limit the Scope Testimony. By choosing your line of questioning, and using leading questions, you can limit the scope of what the hostile witness says. The hostile witness may be chomping at the bit to disparage your client, but if you phrase questions in a certain way, the witness will have no opportunity to do so. Also, by asking leading questions, the hostile witness will have limited ability to go off on tangents that can hurt your cause.
- Impeach. Impeaching a hostile witness is a worthwhile strategy. You can't normally impeach a hostile witness, but you can impeach a hostile witness. Some strategies o adopt can include boxing them in to give the answers you want, or risk impeaching themselves.
Having a witness you call become hostile is not pleasant. But you should have an idea that a witness is potentially hostile and have a strategy in play.
- Witnesses (FindLaw)
- Proving Your Case Through Adverse Witnesses (New York Law Journal)
- Courthouse Dogs Are Cute, But You Can't Cross Examine Them (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Should There be a Expert Witness Code of Ethics? (FindLaw's Strategist)