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Examining the Language in the Courtroom Interrogation of Vulnerable and Non-Vulnerable Witnesses

Virna Villanueva & Marilu Rañosa Madrunio

Date of publication:

December 31, 2016

Testifying in court is a stressful experience for witnesses, most especially to abused children. One of the reasons that makes this experience more difficult is the manner of questioning of some lawyers. Recognizing the need to examine this use of language in the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses, this paper sought to identify the types of questions commonly used by lawyers and the kinds of replies usually given by witnesses. This descriptive study employed a mixed paradigm design as it applies qualitative and quantitative analysis to the corpus consisting of 1,866 questions and 1,811 replies in the transcript of stenographic notes. The study also employed semi-structured interviews. Findings reveal that for both the vulnerable and non-vulnerable witnesses, the types of questions most frequently asked are the close-ended leading questions, yes/no and tags. One type of close-ended question, the wh- question, is also frequently used. In terms of replies, both vulnerable and non-vulnerable witnesses give the same types of replies with compliance mostly being employed. All these findings show that leading and forceful questions commonly used in cross-examinations might deter the child witnesses from telling the real truth. Some lawyers could, therefore, attend more training in investigating child-related cases while courtroom conditions deterring the child witnesses from confidently answering the lawyers’ questions should be improved.

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