IBA: Special Situations That Are Not Unique in Witness Control

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kautzman-john-mug Kautzman

By John F. Kautzman, Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell Bemis & Hasbrook

When cross examining a witness it’s not unusual to be confronted with the “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” witness. Evasive answers like “I don’t know or I can’t remember” shouldn’t necessarily frustrate the cross-examiner. In one respect the witness is no longer even attempting to exercise control and so the cross-examiner has won that confrontation. Do not become frustrated or angry with the witness. Simply try to use those answers to your advantage.

It is important for the cross-examiner to differentiate an actual failed recollection from “I don’t recall” (because I don’t want to answer). Obviously, in most situations the witness either once knew the information but has now forgotten the fact, never possessed knowledge of the information, or simply doesn’t want to answer. Once you can pinpoint the basis for the “I don’t know”, you can begin to show whether or not it is reasonable for the witness to have forgotten. If you ask a series of small one topic questions, you will then be able to bring out that either the witness is being reasonable, or is being absurd because they are failing to remember simple facts that anyone would remember. If the witness continues to say “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” on even simply broken down questions, their credibility has been destroyed and total control has been turned back over to the cross-examiner.

Consider extracting as many “I don’t knows” as possible. Ask if the witness understands the questions. In short, let them damage their own credibility.

This also can become a perfect opportunity for you to point out that the witness has a selective memory. In other words, point out how you “apparently can remember this, but you cannot remember anything else about the situation”. If you go through step by step all of the things the witness can’t remember, which the jury thinks they probably should, the credibility of the witness has been destroyed.

What happens if the witness repeatedly wants to ask you a question, instead of answering your questions? They are the “questioning” witness.

The first tendency is to go ahead and answer the question, but if you do this, you are surrendering the courtroom to the witness. Never do that!

The second temptation is to remind the witness of your respective roles by telling him that you are the lawyer and that “you get to ask the questions”. But the jury may not appreciate your overbearing attitude when it seems that you are simply trying to hide from the witness. It’s another example where the perception might be of you taking unfair advantage of the witness, which the jury might resent.

Sometimes, you can even tell the difficult witness that later in his testimony we can get to the topics that he wants to cover, but for the time being you are focusing on a certain topic. The jury will usually forget if you never go back to the subject area that the witness wanted to cover, since they will expect the opposing lawyer to pick up on those points. (This technique is great for the springboard or smart aleck witness)

Although there is no tried and true solution for this problem, it is probably best to suggest to the jury that you have a perfectly good answer, but you are not permitted to testify. Don’t let the witness become the center of attention. The attorney should become the center of attention, and the witness must be force-fed concepts that he is obligated to agree with.

Finally, determine your objective with the witness, achieve the objective, and stop! Remember, you only put this witness on the stand to make a required showing of proof. Don’t try to take it any farther!

Reference material and suggested reading : Fundamentals of Trial Techniques by Tom Mauet, Cross Examination-Science and Techniques by Larry Pozner and Roger Dodd, The Litigation Manual – A Primer for Trial Lawyers from the American Bar Association, and The Power of the Proper Mindset by James W. McElheney.•


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  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.