Objection

An objection is a type of protest made in court or during a deposition against a witness’ testimony, or a piece of evidence. For example, an objection may be invoked when a witness is giving testimony while on the stand. The motivation for an objection is the belief that introducing such evidence into the court record would be against the rules of evidence and/or the rules of procedure. To explore this concept, consider the following objection definition.

Definition of Objection

Noun

  1. An expression of reason or argument presented in opposition to something.
  2. A statement of opposition to an aspect of a legal proceeding.
  3. A protest made in court, or in another legal proceeding, against testimony, or an item of evidence, to prevent it from being entered into the court’s record.

Origin

1350-1400       Middle English             objeccioun

What is an Objection

An objection is a protest that is expressed either during a deposition, or a court proceeding. The purpose for an objection is to strike a piece of evidence before it can be incorporated into the court record. In the case of a deposition, an objection is made against a witness’ testimony, to clear the record of the question that was just asked, or of the answer that was given.

Objections can also be raised in writing before a trial takes place. In this case, a motion in limine is submitted to the court. A motion in limine is made to prevent evidence from reaching the jury before it could potentially and improperly sway the jury’s opinion.

Once a motion in limine is granted, the person who wrote the motion does not have to raise the objection again at trial. However, most attorneys do so anyway as an added measure to ensure that the prejudicial evidence is not entered into the court record and to make clear that a motion in limine is in effect. Specific information on objections can be found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12.

For an objection to be entertained, it must fulfill the following conditions:

  • It must be timely. That is, it must immediately follow the objectionable testimony or presentation of evidence.
  • It must be specific. That is, it must state the specific rule that deems the testimony or evidence to be improper.
  • It must be clear. It must clearly identify the party against whom the objection is being made, as well as the part of testimony or evidence that the party finds objectionable.

In some cases, evidence is submitted for a limited purpose. In these situations, objections must be made to limit how that evidence is used. For example, an objection could be made in a case where a witness gave testimony solely to prove that she is, indeed, a trustworthy witness. If the material of the witness’ testimony could potentially be damning, then the opposing party must object if the party who called the witness does not make clear that the information within her testimony may only be used to determine her level of trustworthiness.

Ruling on an Objection

When a party announces his “objection” in court, he is telling the judge that he believes the opposing party has violated a rule of evidence. The judge then issues a ruling on the objection to determine what the jury is permitted to consider when deciding their verdict after the trial. The judge can provide a ruling on an objection in one of two ways: he can either “overrule” the objection or choose to “sustain” it.

When an objection is overruled, that means that the judge believes that the evidence has been properly presented to the court, and that the trial can continue. When an objection is sustained, however, the attorney must either rephrase the question or otherwise restructure his evidence so that it is presented to the jury in a way that they can consider. While it may be difficult to do, the jury should technically disregard a question once the judge has ruled that it was improperly asked.

An objection is important, even if it is overruled. Once an attorney objects to evidence, that objection is permanently in the court’s record. If the attorney disagrees with the judge’s ruling on an objection, he can later appeal the decision. If, however, the attorney failed to object to evidence that was indeed presented improperly, he has lost the right to appeal that evidence in the future.

The rules of evidence govern what the jury can and cannot consider when deciding the outcome of a case. There are several rules of evidence, but they can typically be reduced to fit within one of the following three categories.

Facts as Evidence in Testimony

Witnesses can only testify to things they directly observed. A witness cannot testify that “the defendant robbed the bank,” if he didn’t see the robbery taking place. A witness cannot testify that “I saw the defendant rob the bank, and he should go to jail.” In this case, the witness’ opinion that the defendant should go to jail is just that – an opinion, and not an evidentiary fact. He can, however, testify that he “saw the defendant hold the bank teller at gunpoint and demand that she put money in the bag he was holding.” This is a factual statement that recounts what the witness actually saw.

Attorneys are also not allowed to “lead” the witness by asking what are called “leading questions.” A leading question would be something like, “When did the defendant kill the bank manager?” This question suggests to the witness – and the jury – that the defendant killed the bank manager, rather than allowing the witness to testify to what he knows.

Cross-Examination

Every witness that is put on the stand must be able to be cross-examined in accordance with the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Every person accused of a crime has the right to confront his accuser, and every piece of testimony is to be thoroughly examined before being decided on by a jury. This is why it is generally not allowed to present evidence in the form of written statements by witnesses, as it denies the plaintiff the right to face is accuser, and to question the witnesses in order to probe or disprove his testimony.

Genuine Documents

All documents presented as evidence must be genuine. Before a document can be submitted into evidence, it must be verified as the original evidence or, at the very least, as accurate a copy as possible.

Continuing Objection

Some objections are known as “continuing objections.” Continuing objections are made when a party makes an initial objection that is overruled, and he wants to make clear for the record that he is not waiving his objection as questioning on the same subject continues. Continuing objections can be made against a particular line of questioning, the subject of a witness’ testimony, or a specific piece of evidence. The purpose of allowing a continuing objection is to – after the objection has been overruled and testimony continues – allow the judge and jury to hear the evidence without constant objections to every question or bit of testimony that follows.

For example:

During a hearing on her divorce, Jane’s attorney asks her husband, Greg, about his income from a partnership he started before they were married. Greg’s attorney objects, saying whatever money Greg earns from that business is his alone. The court overrules the objection, wanting to hear all of the evidence before making that determination. As Jane’s attorney continues, he asks specifically about the accountant that keeps the books for that business, and Greg’s attorney advises the court “Continuing objection.”

The judge recognizes the continuing objection, which then allows questioning and testimony to continue without interruption for multiple objections on the same line of information-gathering. Greg’s attorney can raise an objection again once the topic is something different.

Continuing objections are often the basis for appeals, having given official notice to the court that the objecting party believes something is not proper. This is especially true when the party who files the appeal believes that the evidence that was submitted in court was allowed improperly and therefore caused him to lose.

Exception

It used to be that, when an attorney made an objection that was overruled, he immediately had to take an “exception.” He would do this by saying “I except,” followed by the reason for his exception. The reason for taking an exception was to preserve his objection for an appeal, else his objection would be considered permanently waived.

Further, upon the conclusion of the trial, the attorney would then have to submit a “Bill of Exceptions,” which was a written list of all the exceptions he intended to appeal. The judge would then sign and seal the Bill of Exceptions, and include it as part of the trial record.

Lawyers and judges eventually realized that the exception process was nothing more than a waste of time. All an appellate court really needs to see in making a decision on the point(s) in dispute are the objections themselves, and the related context of the court record. Exceptions were ultimately abolished in federal courts and several state courts beginning in the 1930s.

Common Courtroom Objection Examples

Attorneys often object to evidence or testimony without providing a reason for their objections. That being said, there are still several common courtroom objections that one is likely to see in a deposition or during a trial. These common courtroom objections are outlined below.

Hearsay

Hearsay is one of the most common courtroom objections because it consists of a statement being given by someone who is not present to defend his position. For instance, a witness may testify “Sally told me she saw the defendant take the money.” This is something that Sally had said, not something that the witness experienced first-hand, which makes it hearsay. Hearsay is objectionable because, in this case, Sally is not in the courtroom to make her statement under oath, and cannot be questioned on what she truly did or did not see or say.

Leading Questions

Leading questions are questions that are worded in such a way as to either give the witness an answer, or to “lead” the witness toward the answer that the attorney wants him to give. Leading questions are questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For instance, an attorney may ask a witness: “Were you at that bank at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 15, 2017?” This is a leading question. Instead, the attorney may ask “When were you at the bank?” Leading questions are allowed when a witness is being cross-examined.

Speculation

Speculation is one of the more common courtroom objections because it refers to testimony that is nothing more than an assumption. If a witness testifies, “I saw the defendant running from the bank, so he must have been the one who robbed it,” this is an example of speculation. For all the witness knows, the defendant might have been trying to run from the person who was actually committing the robbery. Therefore, his speculation is inadmissible as legitimate evidence.

Prejudice

Prejudice is a touchy subject when it comes to evidence. For example, objections can be expressed during a criminal trial against a prosecutor who tries to present photographs taken during the autopsy of the victim. Defense counsel may object to these photographs, arguing that they are prejudicial because of their shock value, and that their prejudicial nature far outweighs the evidence’s value. Instead of submitting such upsetting photos, defense counsel may suggest instead that the jury rely on the testimony provided by the medical examiner who performed the autopsy.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Cross Examination – The interrogation or questioning of a witness called by the opposition, often for the purpose of discrediting the witness’ testimony.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Jury – A group of people sworn to render a verdict in a trial, based on evidence presented.
  • Motion in Limine – A motion made to the court before a jury has been selected in either a civil or a criminal case.
  • Prosecution – The lawyer(s) who argues that a person who is being accused of a crime is, in fact, guilty.

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