The court has authority to exercise reasonable control over the method and mode of interrogating witnesses and presenting evidence so as to (1) make the interrogation and presentation effective for the ascertainment of the truth, (2) avoid needless consumption of time, and (3) protect witnesses from harassment or undue embarrassment.3 For example, a judge may prevent counsel from using leading questions on direct examination except to the extent necessary to develop testimony or where the witness is either hostile, an adverse party or identified with an adverse party.4 Other examples of limits on the form of questions include prohibitions on compound questions, questions that assume facts that are not in evidence and questions that call for conjecture or speculation.
A court can also limit questions that are designed primarily to harass or embarrass the witness,5 although the court may require a witness to answer an embarrassing question where the information sought is directly pertinent and material to the matter at issue.6
In addition to the form of question that may be asked, a court can, to some degree, limit the method of response. For example, a court, in its discretion, can require a witness to respond to questioning, and not engage in a narrative of the witness’s version of the facts.7
Beyond the form of questions and responses, a court can limit the number of witnesses a party may call to establish a particular proposition8 and the amount of time that a party may spend examining (or cross-examining) a witness, including an allocation of time among several co-plaintiffs or co-defendants for examining a witness.9 Where there are multiple parties, a court can designate counsel for a single party to conduct interrogation of a witness on behalf of all parties, provided that the interrogating attorney covers all of the subjects that each party wishes to have addressed.10
3. D.R.E. 611(a); Christiana Care Health Services, Inc. v. Crist, 956 A.2d 622, 626 (Del. 2008); Czech v. State, 945 A.2d 1088, 1095 (Del. 2008); Jones v. State, 940 A.2d 1, 16 (Del. 2007); Ross v. State, 482 A.2d 727, 740 (Del. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1194 (1985).
4. D.R.E. 611(c). See also Lupton v. Underwood, 85 A. 965, 970 (Del. Super. 1912); Friedmann v. McGowan, 42 A. 723, 724 (Del. Super. 1898).
5. D.R.E. 611(a)(3); Van Arsdall v. State, 486 A.2d 1, 8 (Del. 1984), vacated on other grounds, 475 U.S. 673(1986); Wallace v. State, 211 A.2d 845, 848 (Del. 1965).
6. Carey v. Bryan & Rollins, 105 A.2d 201 (Del. Super. 1954); Knowles v. Knowles, 7 Del. 133, 2 Houst. 133, 134 (Del. Super. 1859).
7. State v. Johnson, Cr. A. No. 30004633, slip op. at 5, Babiarz, J. (Del. Super. Oct. 20, 1992), aff’d mem., 620 A.2d 858 (Del. 1992).
8. Humes v. State, I.D. # 0402006855, slip op. at 7-8, Cooch, J. (Aug. 1, 2006); State v. Sailer, ID Nos. 9412009559 & 9412009573, slip op. at 27-28, Carpenter, J. (Del. Super. Nov. 7, 1989). See also Bradley v. A. C. & S. Co., C.A. No. 84C-MY-145, slip op. at 5-7, Taylor, J. (Del. Super. Nov. 7, 1989) (ORDER).
9. See Graham v. A. C. & S. Co., C.A. No. 85C-NO-119, slip op. at 5-7, Taylor, J. (Del. Super. July 31, 1990) (ORDER); Lowe v. A. C. & S. Co., C.A. No. 86C-AU-70, slip op. at 5-6, Taylor, J. (Del. Super. July 31, 1990) (ORDER).
10. See Bradley v. A. C. & S. Co., C.A. No. 84C-MY-145, slip op. at 5-7, Taylor, J. (Del. Super. Nov. 7, 1989) (ORDER); Farrell v. A.C. & S. Co., Inc., C.A. No. 85C-FE-10, slip op. at 1, Taylor, 3. (Del. Super. Jan. 4, 1989) (ORDER).
© 2010 David L. Finger