Suppose there is a witness (not a principal) to a car accident. An attorney would naturally ask the witness about where s/he was at what time, what s/he saw of the accident, etc.

But suppose the attorney started getting into "personal" questions. Such as "What do you do for a living? How much money do you make? Are you married, divorced, single? How many children do you have?" I would imagine that these are irrelevant questions that have nothing do with the car accident.

Perhaps there is another group of questions in grey area: Do you own/drive a car? What kind? When was the last time you have been in an accident? These are also highly personal but may have tangential relevance.

Is an attorney permitted to ask questions like those in either paragraphs two and three? Is the witness allowed to decline to answer such questions for reason of irrelevance, or other grounds?

2 Answers 2


Is an attorney permitted to ask questions like those in either paragraphs two and three?

Yes. That does not mean that they will be considered relevant or even appropriate, though.

Is the witness allowed to decline to answer such questions for reason of irrelevance, or other grounds?

Yes. In general, though, it would be safer for the witness to state an objection (be it on the basis of irrelevance, confrontational, asked & answered, as to form, etc.) and answer the question nonetheless, rather than simply refusing to answer it. By simply declining to answer a question regardless of the basis for refusal, the witness risks affording a crooked lawyer the opportunity to falsely generalize that the witness was uncooperative.

One exception to the idea of "object-and-then-answer" is where some privilege is the alleged basis for the objection, since the substance of the answer could be such that it amounts to waiving the privilege even where that privilege is legitimate.

The witness may also opt to answer the lawyer's irrelevant questions even without stating an objection. Some questions are so obviously irrelevant, dull, or stupid that a failure to raise an objection will be inconsequential. In such scenarios, raising objections can only lengthen the deposition transcript and make it harder to read.

For a real-life example of deposition with plenty of dull questions, take a look at the transcript (which I split in parts one, two and three) of the 4-hour deposition where I myself was the witness (you can download the case file, almost in its entirety, from this page).

You will notice that I did not raise objections during the deposition, the main reason being what I explained above: To avoid giving the opposing counsel an opportunity to falsely accuse me in court of being uncooperative during deposition.

Furthermore, addressing the crook's futile questions (1) projects transparency and helps on the witness's part, and (2) precludes a false & misleading impression as if the witness had something to hide. After all, wrongdoers are the ones most interested in eluding testimony in ways very similar to this other deposition.

The reason of being of objections is precisely that the law "is aware" that, as a matter of fact, lawyers indulge in all kinds of abusive questions when taking sworn testimony --be it in trial or at deposition-- of a witness.


Even if the questioning was happening in a courtroom (which taking a deposition is not), the witness (or the opposing attorney) would be able to object any questions they do not like:

Defendant's attorney to witness: Have you ever been a lover to the plaintiff?

Plaintiff's attorney: Objection, your Honour! Irrelevant question.

Defendant's attorney: Credibility and bias!

Judge: Overruled! Witness, answer the question.

(Party deeply dissatisfied with the judge's decision(s) to uphold or overrule an objection can later (attempt to) appeal the resulting judgment based on that.)

That said, when a deposition is taken, there is no judge. The witness can still object a question, and there is noone to either uphold or overrule the objection. So the witness can stand their ground and not answer until the deposition is seen by the judge who might direct that the questions be answered.

Note that the rejections could be used by the attorney to draw inferences of fact or credibility of the witness.

Specific states can attempt to regulate the latitude in question via lawyer's codes of conduct.


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