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Is there a Time Limit for Cross Examining a Witness

Mar 14, 2015 | Medical Malpractice

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the judge asks the lawyer to begin his cross-examination of a witness. When the lawyer stands up to cross-examine a witness, does he have a time limit? Does the judge give a time limit to the lawyer, as to how long he has for questioning the witness?

There are No Time Limits for Questioning Witnesses

The answer is no set definable time limit that the judge gives to the lawyer for cross-examining a particular witness. For instance, in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff’s lawyer has the opportunity to question a key medical witness that the defense has presented in court, in their support. The plaintiff’s lawyer does not have a definable time limit to cross-examine this witness.

Let us say the lawyer starts cross-examining this witness at 2 o’clock and he is asking all the questions that need to be addressed in the case. Even after five o’clock, the lawyer is still not done with his questions. In such a situation, what is the judge going to do?

Will he tell the lawyer that since it is the end of the day, he does not have the ability to question this witness anymore? Well, the judge cannot say that, and he will most probably ask the witness to come the next day to answer the remaining questions the lawyer might have.

Suppose the plaintiff’s lawyer is cross-examining the defense’s witness, as he is allowed to do, the lawyer has been asking questions for the past one hour, and now the judge wants to take a break. Can the judge do that? Of course, he can, provided the questioning is allowed to resume after the break. Even if it is lunchtime, the lawyer will have to stop for lunch, and then come back and continue where he left off. The judge can never impose any time limit or ask the lawyer to call the next witness, even if the lawyer is taking a lot of time to question a particular witness.

Objections and Strategy

There might be objections raised by the opposing lawyer, objecting to the line of questioning, type of questions asked, or for repetitive questions. The judge will consider these objections and rule accordingly as per the law. However, the judge does not have the power to stop the questioning or limit the time of questioning, just because it is taking too long.

Even though there is no time limit for cross-examining a witness, it is in the best interest of the case for the lawyer to keep the questioning concise and precise. He should ask leading questions, which can elicit precise answers from the witnesses.

No Stop Clock

This is vital because the lawyer will not want to bore the jury in any way. When jurors are bored, their minds will wander and they will not be paying attention to what is being said. Therefore, as a strategy, the lawyer might try to keep the questioning short and precise, but the judge cannot enforce any time limits. This is sort of like baseball, there is not any time limit on the game.