Preparing for Cross-Examination in Traffic Court

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A prosecutor gets a chance to cross-examine you and any other person who testifies on your behalf. If a prosecutor is not present, sometimes the judge will ask the officer if he or she wants to cross-examine. Most officers will decline. In this situation, the judge may ask a few questions on his or her own.

As you probably know, the purpose of cross-examination is to poke holes in your story and the testimony of your witnesses. In case you or your witnesses have to respond to cross-examination, keep the following things in mind:

  • Keep your cool: Don't respond in an evasive, hostile, or argumentative manner.
  • Keep your answers short and focused on the specifics of the question asked of you. That way you won't end up unnecessarily volunteering information that turns out to hurt your case.
  • Although you can be told to answer only "yes" or "no" to a question, you have the right to fully explain any answer you give. It can be a good idea to do this if the prosecutor asks you a seemingly damaging question. For example, if you are asked how fast you were going and you truthfully reply 30 mph in a "presumed speed" area where the speed limit was 25 mph, you would want to add that because no cars were on the road, it was safe to do so. If the prosecution tries to cut you off in the middle of your explanation, turn to the judge and say, "I believe I have the right to explain as part of my answer. May I continue?"
  • Tell the truth. Obvious as this may sound, many people think they can get away with "stretching the truth." The last thing you'll want is for a skilled prosecutor to expose a lie (or even get you to retract a minor point). This is likely to happen when you are less than truthful in response to a question to which the prosecutor already knows—and can prove—the answer.
  • If you don't know, say so. Many people are so afraid to admit ignorance they trip themselves up, often needlessly. If your witness was talking and didn't notice whether two cars turned ahead of you on a yellow light (but can say you crossed the limit line when it was still yellow), make sure he or she knows it's okay to respond "I don't know."

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