Posted on November 19, 2021

Questions Beyond The Scope Of Direct Examination In Illinois Divorce

In an Illinois divorce trial each party has the right to call their own witnesses in order to take testimony and/or present evidence. The initial questioning of a witness is called direct examination.

After a witness is called to testify in a divorce, the other party has the right to question that same witness. This next step in questioning a witness is called a cross-examination.

Cross-examination gives the questioner more control over the questions in that the questions can be leading, a cross-examination is restricted to the bounds of the scope of the direct examination.

Any further questions during a cross-examination regarding subjects which were not touched upon in the direct examination will not be permitted (if objected to).

If a cross-examining question asks questions beyond the scope of the direct examination, the other party may shout “Objection. Beyond the scope of the direct examination!” Similarly, if the witness’s answer goes beyond the scope of the direct examination, the same objection can be made.

What Can You Ask On Cross-Examination During An Illinois Divorce Trial

During cross-examination, the interrogator can ask almost any question that does not call for an answer which violates the Illinois Rules of Evidence. There are dozens of rules which prohibit irrelevant or non-verifiable allegations.

Direct examination is similarly restrained by the Illinois Rules of Evidence.

Cross-examination is restricted to the scope of the direct examination, however.

“Cross-examination should be limited to the subject matter of the direct examination and matters affecting the credibility of the witness, which include matters within the knowledge of the witness that explain, qualify, discredit or destroy the witness’s direct testimony. The court may, in the exercise of discretion, permit inquiry into additional matters as if on direct examination.” Ill. R. Evid. 611

Limiting cross-examination to the scope of the direct keeps the divorce trial organized. Only the issues at hand will be discussed if they are within the scope of the last issues discussed.

Specifically, this rule keeps non-sequitur “gotcha” questions from interrupting the logical flow of direct examination followed by cross within the scope.

For example, in one case “the circuit court acted within its discretion [to bar the question] because the question of whether Lutz was a sadist…was not raised by the testimony…on direct examination” Doe v. Lutz, 668 NE 2d 564 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 2nd Div. 1996

What Is The Scope Of Direct Examination?

The scope of direct examination is whatever the judge decides it should be.

“Parties have the right to cross-examine one another’s witnesses on any matter which goes to explain, modify or discredit what was said on direct examination. The scope of cross-examination is not limited to the actual material discussed during direct examination but to the subject matter of direct examination.  The extent of proper cross-examination falls within the broad discretion of the trial court and the trial court’s determination regarding the scope of cross-examination will not be reversed in the absence of an abuse of that discretion.” Bell v. Hill, 648 NE 2d 170 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 6th Div. 1995

Only an extreme allowance of questioning beyond the direct examination’s scope will be cause a question to later be appealed.

“[C]ross-examination should be kept within fair and reasonable limits, and it is only in a case of clear abuse of such discretion, resulting in manifest prejudice to the defendant, that a reviewing court will interfere.” People v. Halteman, 10 Ill.2d 74, 86, 139 N.E.2d 286, 294 (1956).

The scope of a direct question may not be broad but the scope can be deep.

“[C]ross-examination is generally limited to the scope of the direct examination. However, circumstances resting within the witness’ knowledge may be developed on cross-examination that explain, qualify, discredit, or destroy the witness’ direct testimony, even though that material may not have been raised on direct examination.” Leonardi v. Loyola University of Chicago, 658 NE 2d 450 – Ill: Supreme Court 1995

What If I Want To Ask The Witness Questions That Are Outside Of The Scope Of The Direct Examination?

If you desperately want to ask the witness a question that the direct examiner did not touch on you may call that witness in your own case.

If you’re putting on your own case first, be sure to ask the court for leave to redirect any witnesses the opposing side presents when you close your proofs (finish presenting your evidence).

The witness, not really being your witness may not give you the answers you seek during a direct examination with its prohibition on leading questions. In such, a case, you can ask the court to declare the witness “hostile” so that you can ask the pointed leading questions you need to elicit the appropriate answers.

Objecting to the scope of your opponent’s questions keeps a divorce case organized…and a judge will reward you for that. If you’d like to learn more about how to present your evidence and restrict your opponent’s evidence in an Illinois divorce trial, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to speak with an experienced Chicago divorce attorney.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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