“Your honor, objection!”
Even non-lawyers have probably seen this scene in a TV show or movie where a trial attorney objects to opposing counsel’s question or witness testimony. While objections may be less dramatic in real life, trial attorneys undoubtedly need to understand how to use different types of objections in court.
In this guide, we provide a list of the most common types of objections along with examples. We also address how and when objections should be raised during the process. Finally, we explain how you can prepare for objections in the procedure.
Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list of all objections, and the success of an objection is dependent. We cannot guarantee that your objection will be successful or that your objection is correct. The judge can reject your objection in court.
types of objections
An objection is an attorney’s formal protest that evidence, testimony, or a question from the opposing party should not be admitted. Objections may be raised during court proceedings, witness testimony and other fact-finding hearings. Objections in court differ from objections to affidavits in a number of ways, including the fact that the judge decides on objections during the trial. The judge can grant the objection or reject it. If an objection is upheld, no questioning, testimony or taking of evidence will be allowed.
The following types of objections in court are generally based on the rules of evidence most commonly used in American jurisdictions.
A relevance objection is based on the argument that the evidence is not relevant to the case. Evidence is considered relevant only if it has some value in proving a significant matter. Relevance Objections are designed to prevent a jury from being distracted or influenced by information unrelated to the case at hand.
Under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, the court may exclude evidence, even if relevant, if its probative value is outweighed by the possibility of unjustified interference or other interference with the jury trial. Accordingly, the judge must balance these considerations when deciding on a relevance objection.
Relevance is often a particularly contentious area of objection. The outcome varies widely depending on the circumstances and the judge’s decision is often very subjective.
For reasons of relevance, it would probably be objectionable to cite a party’s criminal record. Even if this has some relevance to the case – for example, given that your client was convicted of embezzlement 20 years ago, is it more likely that he cheated on the plaintiff in this case? —, the judge could conclude that the information would unduly bias the plaintiff’s jury against your client.
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This objection is raised when an attorney asks a question that suggests the desired answer or puts words in the witness’ mouth. Leading questions are forbidden in the direct exam, but exceptions apply to background information. However, leading questions are permissible in cross-examination and for hostile witnesses or opposing parties.
“Isn’t it true that the accused was obviously drunk that night?” is an example of a leading question.
Complex objections are raised when a question contains multiple requests, making it difficult to provide a clear and accurate answer. The general remedy is to split the compound question into multiple questions so the witness understands what they are answering.
“Isn’t it true that you go to the Looney Bar every Wednesday and stayed there until 2am that night?” is technically two questions in one.
A question may be countered as argumentative if it is not aimed at new information, but is aimed at getting the witness to agree with a conclusion or conclusion. This objection can also be invoked as “harassment of the witness”.
A lawyer asks, “Do you expect the jury to think someone who lives in your neighborhood can afford a luxury car?” is argumentative. This question does not seek information. Instead, the witness is merely asked to attack his credibility.
Asked and answered
This objection is raised when an attorney asks a question that has already been asked and adequately answered. The purpose of the objection is to prevent lawyers from asking the same question in different ways to evoke a different answer.
Examiner: So you drove from Fresno to Las Vegas on November 8th?
Witness: “That’s right”
Examiner: So you arrived in Las Vegas on November 8th?
Examiner: So you weren’t in Fresno on November 8th?
If a question is unclear or lacks specificity, you can object on the grounds that it is vague. A vague question makes it difficult for the witness to give a meaningful answer. Sometimes this objection is phrased as “ambiguous” or “vague and ambiguous.”
“Tell us about the incident.” Here the other party can object, arguing that the question is too vague and needs to be clarified.
“Prompt to speculate” is an appropriate objection to a question that forces the witness to guess or speculate about an issue about which he does not directly know. Lawyers can also raise the “speculation objection” when a witness speculates with his testimony, regardless of the question to which he is answering.
When a lawyer asks, “What do you think the defendant’s intentions were?” it is a clear call for speculation.
Hearsay is an objection to evidence based on second-hand information—for example, what the witness heard someone else say—rather than first-hand knowledge. The jury cannot judge the credibility of the person making the statement and there is no opportunity for cross-examination, so this evidence is usually forbidden.
However, there are numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule, such as agitated statements and confessions against interest.
If a witness states, “I heard from a friend that the defendant was at the scene,” that is improper hearsay unless it falls under a hearsay exception.
You can object to any issue involving information that is protected by some form of confidentiality, such as attorney-client privilege. Since maintaining privilege is part of a lawyer’s ethical duty, these objections are usually upheld.
The reviewing attorney asks, “What discussions did you and your attorney have in connection with the settlement of this case?”
Violation of the best evidence rule
The best evidence rule applies when a party seeks to admit a document, recording or photograph as evidence. The rule states that the party must use the original item unless the original is unavailable. You can object to evidence that does not conform to the best-evidence rule.
If a party attempts to introduce a copy of a contract when the original is available, this would violate the best evidence rule.
Should you always disagree?
Suppose you have good reasons to appeal in court. Should you always do this? There are reasons to be strategic when deciding to object.
The ultimate goal of appeals is to ensure that your client receives a fair trial and has the best chance of winning the case. To a jury, constant objections could make it appear that you are struggling with the case or have something to hide. If a particular question or answer is technically objectionable but does not materially affect the case, you may want to refrain from raising an objection.
There are also times when an offensive statement from the other party would actually help your client. Suppose, for example, that the opposing party’s witness is going to make a statement that damages their case. In this case, it may be better not to appeal and to let the jury hear the testimony.
Can you prepare for appeals in court?
Jury trials are often unpredictable, making it impossible to prepare for every possible appeal. However, you can prepare in advance by knowing the following:
- The problems of your case
- The expected testimony of your witnesses
- The types of objections in court
Preparing for court appeals is much easier when you streamline the administrative aspects of your case and free up time and energy for case analysis and strategy.
Law firm management software like Clio Manage can do just that, taking care of case management, document management, and more. The legal calendar aspect of Clio Manage can track events and deadlines based on calendar rules for hundreds of US courts. This technology allows you to stay on top of your cases and stay mentally sharp during the trial so you can handle surprises.
Final thoughts on the types of appeals in court
Every litigator must become familiar with the types of objections in court and how to use them appropriately. In addition, they must anticipate how these objections are likely to play out in their case. Attorneys should consider the legal and factual issues, as well as the expected testimonies of witnesses, to prepare for objections.
Clio Manage is practice management software that can take care of the administrative details of running a business. When attorneys leave the administrative work to practicing administrative software, they have more energy to focus on preparing for litigation.
We published this blog post in August 2023. Last update: .
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