Skip to main content

I need to question a witness in a virtual hearing. 

Virtual Court: Procedure

Learn how to prepare and question one of your witnesses in a virtual hearing.
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer. Talking with a lawyer about your situation is a good idea.

This guide is intended for use to help you prepare for a hearing or trial to question your witnesses virtually. 

Research Tips

Start by reading the following:  

If you want to watch a video with an example of questioning your witness in a virtual hearing, watch Mastering Your Witness: A Guide to Questioning Your Witness in a Virtual Hearing:

This guide can’t answer every question. Researching the laws and regulations governing your type of case is important. For more information on how to conduct this research, read the Legal Research Guide. The laws about questioning witnesses are in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and the Texas Rules of Evidence. 

You can go to a law library to conduct legal research. There is a directory of public local law libraries at Law Libraries in Texas.   

Examples of books and guides to look for at a law library:   

  • Texas Rules of Civil Procedure,  

  • O’Connor’s Texas Rules—Civil Trials,  

  • Texas Rules of Evidence, 

  • Represent Yourself in Court by Nolo Press, and 

  • Texas Jurisprudence.  

A Texas resident who's not near a law library may access more information by registering for a free Texas State Law Library Account. With this account, you can access a variety of online sources.

Common questions about Virtual Court: Procedure

Direct examination is at a hearing or trial, the initial questioning of a witness by the side of the lawyer or party that asked the witness to testify. It is an opportunity to present their testimony, establish facts, and support your case. If you are calling the witness to testify, they are your witness.

It depends on whether you are the movant or respondent for the hearing.  

If you are the movant, you get to go first in making arguments at the hearing. This also means you will get to question your witness first. The movant is the party in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who makes a motion. 

If you are the respondent, you will question the witnesses after the movant is done presenting their case and questioning their witnesses. You will get to question your witness before the other side when it is your turn to make your argument. Each side usually gets a set amount of time to make their arguments. This amount of time includes making your argument and questioning witnesses. When a party requests a hearing, there are two ways the length of the hearing is set. 

  • The court will set the length of time for the hearing based on the type of hearing or 

  • The parties give the court an estimated amount of time they need for their arguments and the court considers the request when setting the hearing. 

A leading question is a question that leads a witness to an answer, sometimes by suggesting the answer. Many leading questions will have only “yes” or “no” answers. 

For example: “You said you were on vacation in Mexico that week, is that correct?” 

Read the Texas Rules of Evidence Rule 611(c) if you want to read the law on leading questions.

No. Leading questions can only be used on cross-examination, not on direct examination. The only time you can use them on direct examination is if you are going to treat your witness as an “adverse witness.” Cross-examination is the testimony a witness gives when the other side is questioning the witness. 

Read the guide I need to question an opposing witness in a virtual hearing to learn more about cross-examination. 

Read the Texas Rules of Evidence Rule 611(c) if you want to learn more about this.

Direct examination questions should be open-ended. This type of question will let the witness to tell their own story and explain their knowledge or observations related to the question and relevant to the case.  

For example: 

  • “Can you please describe the events that occurred on the day of the accident?” 

  • “What is your relationship with the subject child?” 

  • “ How long have you known Jane Doe?”

Yes. You can ask the witness to identify or explain a document, object, or piece of evidence relevant to the case. Then the exhibit will be allowed into evidence depending on the court’s approval and any objections from the other side.  

Read Gathering and Presenting Evidence and the guides Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing and I need to present evidence in a virtual hearing to learn more about exhibits and using them in court.

Instructions & Forms

Warning: These instructions provide general information and are not a substitute for legal advice. It’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer about your particular situation.

Note: Test your computer and the application you will be using to make sure your applications, software, and computer are updated and working properly.

Checklist Steps

It is important to understand the purpose of the hearing and what is expected of you as a pro se litigant. This includes understanding the legal issues involved, the rules of evidence, and the procedural requirements. In a courtroom, pro se litigants are expected to know the rules of evidence and civil procedure and are held to the same standards as lawyers. Not being a lawyer is not an excuse for not knowing the laws. 

If you do not understand the purpose of the hearing, carefully read the Notice of Hearing for your hearing. The notice will usually state the reason for the hearing. Typically, a hearing will be about a motion or request filed by a party that needs to be resolved. Find the motion or request the hearing is set for. Then, read through the document and any related documents filed on the issue. If you still need help understanding the purpose of the hearing, talk to a lawyer.

Review your case and become familiar with the pleadings, motions, and orders that have been filed in the case. This will help you understand the legal issues at stake and the evidence that may be presented.

Think about the people you want to call on as a witness to testify on your behalf. You will need to decide the purpose and relevance of what each person would say to help your case. The purpose of this questioning is to present evidence that will support your claims or defenses in your case. The witness can testify about all relevant facts, events, or opinions that help create your version of events. 

You must include every person you want to call as a witness in the Required Initial Disclosures, discovery answers, or pretrial disclosures, or you will not be able to call them at the hearing. It is better to include people you may not use than to not include them if you decide to later on.  

Required Initial Disclosures are exchanged between parties within 30 days of filing the answer, waiver of service, or counterpetition. Witness lists in the Required Initial Disclosures, discovery answers, and pre-trial disclosures usually include a brief description of each person’s connection to the case.  

If this is a final trial, there is usually a list of witnesses each side intends to call included in a pre-trial filing. This list should be filed according to the rules of procedure for the court you are in or as directed by the court.

Contact everyone you want to call as a witness. Make sure they are willing to testify at the hearing and check their availability.

Interview your witnesses and discover if what they have to say supports your account of events. Do not coach your witnesses on what to say or influence them as to what they are going to say. However, you should have an idea of what they will say on the stand so that you are not surprised during your hearing.

Inform your witness that they should dress professionally as if they were appearing in person. Make sure your witness has access to technology that will allow them to appear on time for your hearing. Remind your witness that the place they use for the hearing should be free from distractions and other people.

Prepare a list of questions to ask the witness during direct examination. The questions should be relevant to the legal issues at stake and should be designed to reveal favorable or damaging testimony. 

These questions should be open-ended, allowing the witness to tell their own story and explain their knowledge or observations related to the question and relevant to the case. 

For example: 

  • “How did you meet the petitioner?” 

  • “How long have you known the parties?” 

  • “When did you first know about the problem at issue in this case?”

If you are having trouble preparing your questions, you should hire a lawyer in the area of law your case is in. Questioning a witness is complicated and it is a good idea to have someone who knows the law and is practiced in questioning witnesses to represent you and your interests. If you need help finding a lawyer, you can: 

If you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you at the hearing, consider hiring a private attorney to provide you with limited-scope representation. They may be able to coach you through the issues and strategies for questioning witnesses for a price you can afford. 

Review Texas Rules of Evidence and Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. Also, visit the Office of Court Administration’s Local Rules Database or your court’s website to see if there are local rules of procedure or evidence that are required for hearings and trials. TexasLawHelp.org has guides on every court in 24 Texas counties in the Virtual Court: County-by-County section of the website. If your county is listed there, you may find the court's rules in their appropriate section. 

The Texas Rules of Evidence tell you how to introduce and share important information about your case with the court. They also tell you how to ask witnesses questions. This is called examining witnesses. Also read I need to present evidence in a virtual hearing.

Anticipate objections from the opposing party and be prepared to respond to them. When an objection is overruled, it means the judge does not agree with the objection and will allow you to ask the question. When an objection is sustained, it means the judge agrees with the objection and will not allow you to ask your question. 

Make sure you understand the rules of evidence and the grounds for objections. Read Gathering and Presenting Evidence and Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing to learn more about evidence and how it is presented in court.

Practice your direct examination with a friend or family member. This will help you become more comfortable with the process and ensure that you are prepared for the hearing. Direct examination at a hearing or trial, is the initial questioning of a witness by the side the lawyer or party that asked the witness to testify. 

You will want to ask the witness questions that further your side of the argument. If you practice your questioning with your witness, do not coach your witness on their answers or try to influence them in any way.

Questioning witnesses can be complicated, and it is best to have a lawyer represent you if you believe you will need to question witnesses. Lawyers are trained to question witnesses in court and will be able to protect your interests and represent you effectively. 

Print out everything you will need for your hearing, including your prepared questions and any exhibits you want to introduce during your questioning. This way you will have them directly in front of you and you do not have to worry about trying to find them on your computer or other device the day of the hearing. Make sure all your exhibits are properly marked as you gave them to the other side and the court. 

You should also set aside a pen, pencil, and a blank notebook so you can take notes during the hearing. This way you do not have to use your computer for anything other than participating in the hearing. Keep the documents and extra supplies organized on or near where you plan on participating in the hearing. This will help make the day of the hearing less stressful. 

If you are using a virtual court kiosk site, put all of these items into a bag. Make sure everything is organized and in a memorable location. This will help make leaving for the kiosk site the day of the hearing easier and less stressful. 

Checklist Steps

There are a few final preparation steps you should take at least an hour before your hearing. These include: 

  • Test your internet connection with your device and the platform. Set up a test call to make sure your device is working properly. 

  • Make sure the device you are using for the hearing is charged, and there is a charger within your reach. 

  • Use a headset or headphones with a built-in microphone if you have one that works for your device. 

  • Make sure you have all the paperwork you may need during the hearing. 

  • Before joining the meeting by phone or video, set yourself up in the most private, quiet place you have available so you can hear and be heard during the hearing with no distractions. 

  • If you are using your phone, have a way to prop it up so you can look at it directly without holding it in your hand.   

  • Check your lighting. You want the light to be in front of your face, so your face is not shadowed or dark. Make sure to avoid bright lights behind your head (like sitting in front of a window, lamp, or other light source).

  • Dress appropriately for the hearing. This means wearing professional attire that is respectful to the court.  

  • Read Virtual Court for more information on preparing for a remote hearing.

  • Read the materials in TexasLawHelp’s Virtual Court: Technology section to learn about using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or CourtCall for your virtual hearing.

Log into the platform used for the hearing early to give yourself time to get organized and to mentally prepare. 

Read the materials in TexasLawHelp’s Virtual Court: Technology section to learn about using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or CourtCall for your virtual hearing.

Be respectful to the court, the opposing party, and the witness. Remember that the judge is there to ensure a fair and just outcome for all parties involved.

Once it is your turn, you will call the witness to the stand and ask them the questions you prepared. Be sure to keep the questions you ask relevant to the issues that are before the court. Be careful not to ask any leading questions.  

Present any relevant exhibits to their testimony to the court and ask the witness to identify them, if necessary. Read the guide I need to present evidence in a virtual hearing to learn more about presenting your exhibits during your hearing. 

Note: When questioning the witness, there may be a lag in internet connection affecting the audio or video so you will need to wait a few seconds after asking the question for an answer. 

Be prepared to handle objections raised by the opposing party and respond appropriately. You will have to argue why the question should be allowed based on the Rules of Evidence. This is why it is important to read through the Texas Rules of Evidence before your hearing. If the court sustains (allows) an objection, rephrase or reframe your question to fix the issue in the objection or move to another line of questioning. 

Stay away from hearsay. Hearsay is a statement made out of court offered by the witness to prove the truth of the matter asserted in that statement. Be sure to read the Rules of Evidence before your hearing. Read Rules of Evidence and Objections in a Virtual Hearing to learn more about hearsay and other objections that may come up during your questioning. 

Stay focused during cross-examination, if necessary, and be prepared to “redirect” your witness to resolve any issues that come up on cross-examination. Redirect examination is when you question your witness a second time to clarify their testimony after the other side finishes asking questions. Pay attention to, and make, any objections that you may want to make during the other side’s cross-examination.

Related Articles