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Leading the Witness

Definition - What does Leading the Witness mean?

"Leading the witness" is the act of asking witnesses questions that are phrased in such a way that it suggests a specific answer or essentially puts words into the mouth of the witness.

The purpose of allowing witnesses to testify in court is to give them the opportunity to explain to the judge and the jury what they perceived. This cannot happen if a lawyer is leading a witness to answer in a specific way.

Justipedia explains Leading the Witness

Leading the witness is fairly easy to recognize once you know the standard. As explained, the purpose of a witness's testimony is to allow them to give their unbiased, uninfluenced opinion as to how something occurred.

For instance, if the jacket that the murderer wore was red, and the attorney wanted to ask the witness what the color of the jacket was when the witness saw the defendant fleeing the scene, the correct way to ask the question would be:

"What color was Mr. Smith's jacket?" or "What color was the jacket that you saw that night on the person leaving the scene?"

It would be seen as leading the witness if the attorney asked the question in this manner: "Mr. Smith's jacket was red, wasn't it?"

Leading the witness is forbidden in trials while an attorney is questioning a witness that he or she called to the stand. However, it is allowed during cross-examination and if the witness is determined to be hostile.

If one attorney believes that another attorney is leading their own witness, then they can object. It will then be decided by the judge whether or not the question and answer will be allowed.

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