A leading question actually suggests an answer or substitutes the words of the questioning attorney for those of the witness. Many leading questions call for answers of either “yes” or “no.” But not all questions that call for an answer of “yes” or “no” are leading questions.
Judges have discretion to allow leading questions during the direct examination of a witness when the questions have the following traits:
- deal with simple background issues
- will help to elicit the testimony of a witness who, due to age, incapacity, or limited intelligence, is having difficulty communicating her evidence
- are asked of an adverse or hostile witness. Witnesses are considered adverse or hostile when their interests or sympathies may lead them to resist testifying truthfully. In most cases, an adverse party or a witness associated with an adverse party is considered hostile for the purposes of this rule
Questions that call for a narrative answer are more or less the opposite of leading questions. Questions that call for a narrative often produce long speeches that can waste the time of the court and the parties. These kinds of questions are very unpopular with courts and should be avoided.
During cross-examination, attorneys may only ask about subjects that were raised upon the direct examination of the witness, including credibility. If cross-examiners stray into a new topical area, the judge may permit them to do so in the interest of time or efficiency, but harassment of the witness is not permitted under any circumstances.