Direct Examination Law and Legal Definition

Direct examination is the initial questioning of a witness during a trial or deposition by the attorney who called the witness. It is distinguished from cross-examination, which is conducted by opposing attorneys and redirect examination, in which the witness is again questioned by the original attorney to address their testimony on cross-examination.

Traditionally, questions asked a witness during direct examination cannot be in a form suggesting the answer to the witness. These are called leading questions. The rationale is that witnesses called by a party are presumed to give testimony favorable to that party, and, therefore, leading questions are not necessary. Courts have barred leading questions on direct examination because a witness should testify to relevant facts personally known by the witness, without counsel's suggesting the desired answer. The danger sought to be avoided is that the jury could hear the lawyer's testimony instead of the witness's. Courts do permit leading questions on cross-examination, on the assumption that the cross-examiner needs to suggest answers to the witness in order to explore adequately the reliability of the direct examination and the credibility of the witness.