How to lead a witness into a trap

Classic military theory had soldiers hiding in tall grass or in pits or trenches. Ambush, relying entirely on the element of surprise, was always risky because no one could predict what would happen after the surprise wore off.

(la version française suit)

To confuse the adversary, you will need to be confusing

You still see this in the tactics of some litigation counsel.  It is most obvious at trial or during a tribunal hearing.  They will skirt around an issue, question after question, leaving both witness and trier of fact wondering whether the lawyer picked up the right brief that morning.  In examination for discovery, the tactic is often deflated by the witness’ lawyer, after she is given the opportunity to interject and ask for the relevance of the question.  Same with a judge or tribunal chair: they will ask where you are going, and then the jig is up.

I am not saying that a well-laid trap using subterfuge is never effective.  It does, however, require extreme concentration, a senior counsel’s ability to control a witness (even with a little bullying), and a Plan B when it is exposed or diffused.  Most of the time, however, the groundwork needed to set up the bushes and camouflage can also confuse the people you are trying to convince the witness is lying or bending the truth.  You can lose most people with a complicated plot, and thereby lose your case.  If you succeed in getting the witness to make a dramatic admission, the effect of it may also be deflated by the perception you secured the admission through trickery.

Show them the trap, and they may want to leap into it.

Normal, sober people are capable of walking easily in a straight line, or navigate around a hazard.  Why then, do people fear walking near a ledge or around a big hole in the ground?  It is not because they can’t do it: rather, they fear they may walk off the ledge or into the hole intentionally.  So, too, is the mentality of witnesses in a legal proceeding.  Once the witness is close to the trap, your task is to keep him there, pressing him closer, until he falls in.

The way to take the witness to the trap is to lead him there.  As the questioner, you have the advantage of control.  The witness must answer, unless there is a valid legal ground for objection by the opposing lawyer or for intervention by the judge.  Recognition of the power you have is one of the more difficult skills to learn as a new lawyer.  It comes from the function each person has during the interrogation of a witness.  The judge or jury’s role is to hear.  The witness’ to tell the truth.  Yours is to ask questions.  Relevance is your friend and most powerful weapon. Make the witness struggle to avoid what everyone can see.  In the end, if you paint a clear enough picture of the trap through the testimony, the trier of fact will see the witness must leap in, even if it doesn’t happen.  In contrast, starting outside the zone of relevance is to launch an attack from a position of weakness.

The great advantage of showing the witness the trap you have laid, is that it instills nervousness from an early stage in the story.  It is nervousness which will make them walk into the trap.  This is the same nervousness which keeps the trier of fact interested in what the witness has to say.  Zero in on the most important point as soon as you can.  Aristotle, in his Poetics, described this as the ancient Greek theatrical device of “discovery,” a plot which starts quickly and propels both characters and audience through logic instead of cheap tricks.  It is storytelling at its best.  It makes the witness’ testimony part of your client’s case.  If the case is sound, you will win the case for your client.

~   ~   ~

La théorie militaire classique avait des soldats cachés dans les hautes herbes ou dans des fosses ou des tranchées. Embuscade, reposant entièrement sur l’élément de surprise, a toujours été risqué, car personne ne pouvait prédire ce qui arriverait après la surprise.

Pour confondre l’adversaire, vous allez être source de confusion

Vous voyez toujours cette tactique parmi certains avocats de litige. Il est plus évidente lors du procès ou au cours d’une audience du tribunal. En évitant le sujet principal, question après question, ils laissent à la fois témoin et juge de se demander si l’avocat travaille avec le dossier incorrect. Dans l’interrogatoire préalable, la tactique est souvent corrigée par l’avocat du témoin, après qu’elle a la possibilité d’intervenir et de demander la pertinence de la question.  De même avec un juge, lorsqu’elle vous demande de vous exprimer de votre tactique.

Je ne dis pas qu’un piège bien défini en utilisant un subterfuge n’est jamais efficace. Cependant, il nécessite une concentration extrême, la capacité d’un avocat-conseil très expérimenté pour contrôler un témoin (même avec un peu d’intimidation), et un plan B quand le subterfuge est exposé ou diffus. La plupart du temps, cependant, les bases nécessaires pour mettre en place le camouflage peuvent aussi confondre les gens que vous essayez de convaincre. Vous pouvez perdre la plupart des gens avec une intrigue compliquée, et perdre ainsi votre cause. Si vous réussissez à obtenir le témoin de faire un terrible aveu, l’effet de celle-ci peut également être corrigé par la perception que vous avez obtenu l’admission par la ruse.

Montrez-leur le piège, et ils peuvent vouloir sauter dedans.

Les gens normal et sobres sont capables de marcher facilement dans une ligne droite, ou de naviguer autour d’un danger. Pourquoi alors, les gens craignent marcher près d’un rebord ou autour d’un grand trou dans le sol? Ce n’est pas parce qu’ils ne peuvent pas le faire: au contraire, ils craignent de marche de la corniche ou dans le trou volontairement. Alors, aussi, ceci est la mentalité des témoins dans une procédure judiciaire. Une fois que le témoin est proche de la trappe, votre tâche est de le garder là, le pressant de plus près, jusqu’à ce qu’il tombe dedans.

La manière de prendre le témoin à la trappe est de l’y conduire. Comme le questionneur, vous avez l’avantage. Le témoin doit répondre, sauf s’il y a un motif valable d’opposition par l’avocat adverse ou d’une intervention par le juge. La reconnaissance de la puissance que vous avez est une des compétences les plus difficiles à apprendre comme un nouvel avocat. Il provient de la fonction de chaque personne au cours de l’interrogatoire d’un témoin. Le juge ou le rôle de jury est à entendre. Le témoin de dire la vérité. Le vôtre est de poser des questions.

Le grand avantage de montrer au témoin le piège que vous avez posée, c’est qu’il instille la nervosité au début de l’histoire. C’est la nervosité qui les fera tomber dans le piège. C’est la même nervosité qui maintient le juge des faits intéressés à ce que le témoin a à dire. Concentrez-vous sur le point le plus important dès que vous le pouvez. Aristote, dans sa Poétique, décrit le concept de l’ancien théâtre grec de « découverte », une intrigue qui propulse les personnages et l’audience à travers la logique, au lieu de trucs. C’est la narration à son meilleur. Cette méthode intègre la déposition du témoin dans les plaidoiries de votre client. Suivez la méthode, et vous pouvez gagner l’action en justice pour votre client.

Terms of use / Mentions légales


  1. Sure thing. Take the example of a manufacturer of an electrical appliance which has caused a house fire. It defends on the basis that hundreds of thousands of these units were installed over 10 years and only 20 have been linked to fires. You tell the company rep you want to know about the steps taken to investigate the cause, to correct any defect and to inform homeowners of a potential fire hazard. (Instead of beating about the bush, you telegraph the theme and point out the trap: i.e. you know there has been some attempt to investigate, some attempt to correct, but no attempt to inform homeowners.) The rep will answer your questions about investigation. Of course they investigated. Are there any internal notes? No, they are litigation privileged. So your only response to burning down people’s homes was to defend lawsuits? You can then play around with the attempt to correct, whether it was adequate, but of course these efforts did not help your client, the victim of the house fire. What effort did you make to inform the public with the product before it was corrected about the result of your investigations? None, because our attorneys said we should not …

    The witness has one eye on the ball, and another on the 20 other law suits. Draw the witnesses closer and closer to the subject of prior knowledge of the hazard, and he will most likely say that he can’t comment. If this is during a trial, the judge will order him to answer. The actual investigation then becomes less important than the admission that they investigated primarily to defend lawsuits, and that they did not want to publicize the hazard for fear of further litigation. It is an obvious trap, but it only works if you keep the trap visible to everyone including the witness.

    If, on the other hand, you pussyfoot around the prior fires and try to get into the individual circumstances of the other fires, etc., you lose everyone by deflecting away from the main purpose: to show that your client’s house burned down because the company was more interested in fending off litigation than keeping its customers safe.

  2. The article is quite interesting. And it can be made more interesting with some illustration. Mr. F, Wellman Esq. of the New York Bar is apt on this point – re: “the Art of Cross-Examination.”

    D, Aviado

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