Leading Question

Definition - What does Leading Question mean?

A leading question is a question asked of an individual during an examination that is deliberately worded in a way to infer the desired answer.

"Leading the witness" is the act of asking a witness 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 – their unbiased and uninfluenced opinion. This cannot happen if a lawyer is leading a witness to answer in a specific way. Therefore, leading questions are generally not allowed within the United States legal system. However, there are common exceptions to this rule:

  1. Usually, an attorney is allowed to ask an opposing party leading questions during cross-examinations. The reason for this is because it is assumed that opposing parties will have inherently different views and motives concerning the case.
  2. If the witness is deemed hostile.

If an 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.

Justipedia explains Leading Question

Leading the witness is fairly easy to recognize once you know the standard:

  • 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?"

  • Another example is the following, which is worded in a leading manner: "You were not located at your ex-girlfriend's apartment on the night of November 13, 2013, correct?"

(This question is leading because it suggests an answer by providing an exact location for the testifier. The non-leading way to ask this question would be: "Where were you on the night of November 13, 2013?")

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