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What Does "Rebut" Mean?

Rebuttals can include challenging testimony provided by a witness in court.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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Rebut defines a legal term used in court to challenge, explain, or contradict evidence presented by the opposing side. Commonly called rebuttal evidence, this method is used by an attorney who aims to prove or disprove facts introduced by his or her opponent to rebut credibility of the evidence. Various kinds of evidence are open for rebut, and the practice typically occurs during cross examination of witnesses.

A witness’s testimony might be challenged on cross examination in several areas to rebut evidence solicited during direct examination, commonly called impeaching the witness. Cross examination might rebut evidence by showing the witness gave inconsistent information in a prior court proceeding or statement. A lawyer may call one witness to give testimony that rebuts the evidence presented by another witness.

Rebuttal evidence might include documents stating facts that differ from a witness’s sworn testimony. Police reports represent one example of rebuttal evidence that might disprove evidence offered by the opposing side in a trial. Financial records, letters, and contracts are additional written materials commonly used to discredit a witness, particularly in civil cases.

A defense or prosecuting attorney might attempt to show witness bias or a motive to lie when attempting to disprove evidence. Questions during cross examination may uncover past instances when the witness lied or may reveal a habit of lying. Another tactic commonly employed when trying to elicit rebuttal evidence involves challenging the witness’s memory regarding pertinent facts.

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During a trial, one side calls witnesses who offer direct testimony to prove facts of the case, with the plaintiff typically going first. The defense gets an opportunity to cross examine the witnesses, hoping to dispel, or rebut, testimony that harms his or her case. Plaintiffs, or their attorneys, might ask the witness to explain contradictions or clarify certain facts during re-direct examination. This process, called surrebuttal, continues until no further questions remain.

Confronting a witness is considered a fundamental right in some regions, but restrictions might apply. Some judges permit the videotaped testimony of a child, especially if the minor is a victim of abuse. Exceptions might also limit cross examination in domestic abuse cases, divorce cases, and hearings to terminate parental rights.

Defendants and plaintiffs may not impeach their own witness in some jurisdictions. They may rebut evidence the witness provides by calling another witness who gives different facts. If evidence includes written materials a lawyer hopes to rebut, he or she must show that the material is false or a mistake occurred that makes the information unreliable.

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