From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In common law systems that rely on testimony by witnesses, a leading question is a question that suggests the answer or contains the information the examiner is looking for. For example, this question is leading:
- You were at Duffy's bar on the night of July 15, weren't you?
It suggests that the witness was at Duffy's bar on the night in question. The same question in a non-leading form would be:
- Where were you on the night of July 15?
This form of question does not suggest to the witness the answer the examiner hopes to elicit.
Leading questions may often be answerable with a yes or no (though not all yes-no questions are leading). Depending on the circumstances leading questions can be objectionable or proper. The propriety of leading questions generally depends on the relationship of the witness to the party conducting the examination. An examiner may generally ask leading questions of a hostile witness or on cross-examination, but not on direct examination.
It is important to distinguish between leading questions and questions that are objectionable because they contain implicit assumptions. The classic example is:
- Have you stopped beating your wife?
This type of question is not leading, as it does not suggest that the examiner expects any particular answer. It is however objectionable because it assumes (among other things) that the witness (1) was married and (2) had in fact beaten his wife in the past, facts which (presumably) have not been established. A proper objection would be that this question is assuming facts not in evidence (or argumentative, if the case is about the alleged beating).
- Suggestive question, similar to leading question but manipulates the respondent to answer in a specific way.
- Fallacy of many questions, also known as loaded questions