Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Leading Question Definition:

A question which suggests an answer; usually answerable by yes or no.

Related Terms: Cross Examination, Testimony, Examination In Chief, Witness

For example:

"Did you see David at 3 p.m.?"

These are forbidden to ensure that the witness is not coached or directed by their lawyer through his or her testimony.

The proper form would be:

"At what time did you see David?"

In Harris, with some reliance on the Mississippi rules of evidence, Justice Barnes of the Mississippi Court of Appeals wrote:

"A leading question is one which suggests the desired answer or puts words into the witness's mouth to be echoed back.

"[L]eading questions should not be used on the direct examination of a witness except as may be necessary to develop his testimony.

"Leading questions as a general rule should not be used on direct examination since they suggest the answers the attorney wants from his own witness. This gives an unfair advantage to the party who is presenting his case.

"[T]he decision to allow leading questions rests within the sound discretion of the trial court.

"Unless there has been a manifest abuse of discretion resulting in injury to the complaining party, we will not reverse the decision. This is because the harm caused is usually speculative and likely inconsiderable and only the trial court was able to observe the demeanor of the witness to determine the harm."

Conversely, leading questions are acceptable in cross-examination or where a witness is declared hostile.

An amusing story is told of Sir Frederick Thesiger, later Lord Chelmford, in the English style of replacing a person's surname when the obtain some form of peerage.

Thesiger was presiding over the examination of a witness and a one point took exception to other lawyer's questioning, to which the other lawyer countered:

"LAWYER: I have a right to deal with my witness as I please!

"THISIGER: To that, I offer no objection. You may deal as you like but you shall not lead."

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