Why do courts allow attorneys to demand Yes-or-No answers to their questions? I'm seeing a lot of that in the Chauvin trial.

Attorneys are prohibited from asking leading questions, and from badgering the witness. Demanding Yes-or-No answers seems worse in my book:

"Has the defendant stopped regularly beating his wife and kids? Yes or no?" (Not an actual example, but here to demonstrate the absurdity of demanding Yes-or-No answers)

  • "Attorneys are prohibited from asking leading questions": Not true, see law.stackexchange.com/questions/63972/…. Attorneys may not ask leading questions of their own witnesses, unless given permission by the judge to treat them as hostile. But they can always ask leading questions of the other side's witnesses on cross-examination. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 22:01
  • law.stackexchange.com/questions/56745/… may also be relevant. Commented Apr 15, 2021 at 22:07
  • Well, the cardinal rule is that the witness must be responsive. Many witnesses will try to make irrelevant observations or explanations when asked a simple factual question. The court has every right to demand the witness simply answer the question. That is why you often see judges ordering witnesses to answer yes or no: because the witness is not there to start telling stories or presenting his own case theories, he is there to answer to the facts as the questioner has posed them.
    – Cicero
    Commented Jan 6, 2023 at 16:49

1 Answer 1


The parties are generally entitled to present their case as they see fit, as long as they stay within the rules of evidence. If they want a straight yes or no, the court will often require the witness to provide one, which keeps lawyers happy, makes the answers clear for the jury, and limits the parties' grounds for appeal.

If a yes or no answer is not as accurate as a more qualified answer, the other lawyer would typically have an opportunity to invite the witness to provide a fuller answer on redirect.

If a yes or no answer is inappropriate because of assumption embedded in the question -- as in your "beating his wife and kids" example -- the question should quickly elicit an objection from the defense attorney, who would note that the question lacks foundation or assumes facts not in evidence. Assuming there isn't any evidence of domestic violence, the court should sustain the objection, in which case the witness would not need to answer at all.

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