Cross-Examination: Psychology in Practice

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Cross-Examination: Psychology in Practice

A variety of psychological factors come into play when lawyers cross-examines a witness. It is often not what questions are asked, but how they are asked, and to what end they are given. A few important principles are:

  • The Doctrine of Completion: As a general rule a listener (e.g. a jury) expects to hear certain things from a presenter (e.g. a witness). The jury expects a coherent story and fairness (ie; facts and pieces of the story are not hidden from them). They expect the attorney and witness will tell a full and complete story, without hiding anything. The purpose of cross-examination then becomes to let the jury know that they attorney is fulfilling the requirement to have a complete and whole story, that fairness and completeness is the goal. The attorney is held out as someone is interested in the Doctrine of Completeness.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: An attorney can employ this tactic and become “prophetic” by providing the jury during Voir Dire and the opening statements facts and information that is then corroborated by the witnesses and documents they provide as evidence. The psychological advantage is gained when the information appears unknown or unexpected – as if the lawyer, and the lawyer alone – knew that it would be revealed. During closing arguments, it is critical to remind the jury that you predicted the information would come out, and that it actually was presented in court. The overall purpose of this tactic is to enhance the credibility of the attorney and to highlight and enforce certain key facts or elements of the case.


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