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Let’s suppose I’m a prosecutor trying to convince a jury to convict the defendant in a murder case. Let’s call the defendant “Albert” and the victim “Buddy.”

Albert is on the stand and I’m cross-examining him. You might imagine that it would go something like this:

  • “Did you know Buddy?”
  • “Yes.”
  • “Were you angry at Buddy on the day he died?”
  • “Yeah, a little bit.”
  • “Your neighbor said you were yelling for two hours straight that evening.”
  • “Okay, we weren’t happy with each other.”
  • “Why weren’t you happy with Buddy?”
  • “I owed him some money and I couldn’t pay him.”
  • “How much?”
  • “Maybe $10,000.”
  • “Where were you on the night of Buddy’s death?”
  • “At home, watching TV.”
  • “Can anyone verify that? Was anyone there with you?”
  • “No, I was alone.”

At this point, I’ve established for the jury that (1) Albert was angry at Buddy, (2) Albert owed Buddy a lot of money, and (3) Albert has no alibi.  This is good, but I need to bring in other evidence (maybe an eyewitness who said he saw Albert stabbing Buddy) to make my case complete.

My question for you is “what should I do now?”

I have two options:

(A) sit down and let the jury marinate on these facts. (B) ask Albert with a dramatic courtroom flourish, “Albert, how can you say that you didn’t kill Buddy when you had a motive, anger, and no alibi?”

If you answered option B, you’re in the majority of debaters who routinely ask the “question too far.”

A “question too far” is one which gives control to the examinee (the person answering the questions). In the example of the murder trial, all I’m doing is giving Albert an opportunity to defend himself: “I would never get so angry at someone that I would kill them! I’ve known Buddy since the first grade! His ex-wife always said she would stab him one day!”

And once I’ve asked the question, I can’t interrupt Albert. I asked him to defend himself! Is the judge/jury going to look kindly on me saying “wait, stop, okay, I’d like to ask another question now please”?

The magnificent courtroom breakdown where the crowd goes wild with awe for you? That doesn’t happen. CX is a time to establish facts. 

And when it’s time, sit down. Let it marinate.

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