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Direct and Cross-Examination of Complainants and Defendants in Rape Trials: A Quantitative Analysis of Question Type

NCJ Number
Psychology Crime & Law Volume: 9 Issue: 1 Dated: 2003 Pages: 49-59
Mark R. Kebbell; Stephen Deprez; Graham F. Wagstaff
Date Published
11 pages
This post-hoc examination of attorney questioning of complainants and defendants in six rape trials focused on the types of questions asked by the lawyers, how questions changed from evidence-in-chief to cross-examination, and whether lawyers' questions were more combative with complainants than with defendants.
The six rape trial transcripts were for trials held at the Old Bailey Crown Court in London, England. Five were conducted in 1993, and one was conducted in 1988. The average time between the crime and the start of the trial was 218.8 days. Questions asked in the evidence-in-chief and cross-examination of six complaints and five defendants were coded into the following five categories: "open," "closed," "leading," "heavily-leading," and "yes/no." The frequency of "multiple questions" and questions with "negatives" and "double negatives" were also recorded; such questions reflected witnesses' difficulty in understanding a question. The findings indicated that questions in both evidence-in-chief and cross-examination were constraining, thus failing to allow witnesses the opportunity to provide complete accounts of alleged events, particularly during cross-examination. Multiple questions were frequent, although negatives were comparatively rare, and double negatives did not occur. The forms of questioning for complainants and defendants were similar, although more questions were asked of complainants than defendants in cross-examination. From these findings the authors drew three main conclusions. First, the methods of examining witnesses did little to ensure their memories were as accurate as possible. Second, cross-examination was particularly weak in eliciting accurate memory reports, a circumstance likely to compound the general problems associated with evidence-in-chief. Third, under the criteria used in this study, complainants and defendants were examined in similar ways, although more questions were asked of complainants in cross-examination. 1 table and 56 references