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Abraham Lincoln and the Ten Commandments of Cross Examination

During his years as a trial lawyer, Abraham Lincoln took on his share of criminal defense cases.  Once he was defending a man charged with assault and battery.  During the course of his cross examination of the prosecution’s star witness, he seemingly violated one of the Ten Commandments of Cross Examination:  Do Not Ask The One Question Too Many.

During the course of cross examination, Lincoln managed to get the witness to admit that he never actually saw the defendant bite off the nose of the victim.  But he then asked the one question too many.  Or did he?

            Lincoln:  You didn’t see my client bite off the victim’s nose. 

            Witness:  No, I didn’t.

            Lincoln:  Then how do you know he did it?

            Witness:  Because I saw him spit it out.

Ouch!  But Lincoln was a very smart man.  Did he really blunder or was he laying a trap?

            Lincoln:  Wasn’t it night time?

            Witness:  Yes it was.

            Lincoln:  And weren’t you about 30 yards away?

            Witness:  Yes, that’s true.

            Lincoln:  Then how could you see all this? 

            Witness:  By the light of the full moon.

Ouch again!  But wait.  Lincoln then took out the 1857 Farmer’s Almanac which proved that there was no moon on the night of the assault.  The witness’s credibility was shattered and Lincoln’s client beat the rap.

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