Leading Questions

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Grissom - I tend not to believe people. People lie. The evidence doesn't lie.

The entire corpus juris (body of laws) is broadly classified into 2 categories, i) substantive laws, and ii) adjective laws. Substantive laws are those, which define the rights, duties and liabilities, the ascertainment of which is the purpose of every judicial enquiry. Adjective laws are those, which define the pleading and procedure by which substantive laws are applied in practice. The Indian Evidence Act is the adjective law, steps in for the enforcement of the substantive law. The rules regarding evidence in the administration of justice are of high importance. No substantive law can be enforced without the help of the rules of law of evidence. The law of evidence can be stated to be the foundation on which the entire structure of judiciary is based. If the foundation is weak the structure is bound to collapse. Similarly, if the rules of law of evidence are not sound the administration of justice is bound to go astray.[1]

Leading questions are questions which are framed in a way which evokes a specific response from the individual being questioned. Issues about leading questions can come up in journalistic interviews, court rooms, and surveys, and in some cases, the use of such questions is viewed as a branch of ethics and professionalism. Leading questions may also be used in a more casual setting, such as a conversation between friends, relatives, or coworkers. In a leading question, the questioner uses language which suggests a particular answer.

For example, instead of asking a witness on the stand “where were you on the night of December 20th, 1967,” the questioner would say: “you were driving to Maine on the night of December 20th, 1967, were you not?” The difference between these two examples is quite clear. The first question is open ended, while the second is closed, requiring only a yes or no answer.[2]

Many leading questions are framed as yes or no questions, with the subject of the questions essentially being coached into a specific answer. Others may be open ended, but framed in a way which embeds the information that the questioner wishes to elicit. Yes or no questions are not always leading, but they often are, so they should be constructed carefully. In a court room, the use of leading questions is frowned upon, because people believe that they compromise the witness and potentially taint the evidence which he or she provides. These types of questions are usually only allowed in very specific situations, such as providing establishing biographical information from a witness when he or she first arrives on the stand.

In surveys, leading questions can be very dangerous, because they can be formulated in a way which slants results, and the same holds true for leading questions used in media interviews. Some leading questions are assumptive, meaning that the questioner makes an assumption in the process of asking the questions. Others use implications, and some are coercive, designed to strongly suggest the preferred answer.

Leading questions can also create false links in the mind of the witness. Some psychological studies have shown that using leading questions can actually result in the implantation of false memories. 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.[3]

Leading Question Defined Under The Indian Evidence Act...
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