Making and Responding to Objections
An objection is a motion made when a party wants to prevent the oppositionâ€™s evidence from being presented. Objections can be made either to witness testimony or to any other evidence offered.
If an objection is SUSTAINED by the judge, that means he/she agrees with the contention that the evidence being offered should not be allowed (for a variety of reasons, including irrelevance, privilege, hearsay, etc.) and that the party offering the evidence cannot use it in the court. If an objection is OVERRULED by the judge, he/she feels it is either not in violation of any rule of admissibility, or even if it is, that it is valuable and warranted, in which case the evidence will be allowed.
When to Object
Objections should be made only when the evidence being offered is truly harmful to a partyâ€™s case and relates to an important issue. Making objections that are random, frivolous, or likely to be overruled is unacceptable, and the motions will not only be overruled by the judge, but he/she, as well as the jury and the opposing party, will view the party making the inappropriate objections as desperate and incompetent.
If a party feels he/she has a good reason to object, timing is imperative and will depend what is being objected to. If a question posed to a witness is improper, as if it is leading during direct examination, beyond the allowable scope during cross-examination, or hearsay, one should stand and object immediately, before the witness has a chance to answer. If the question is permissible but the answer of the witness is not, one should stand and say â€œexcuse me,â€ stopping the witnessâ€™ flow of speech, and then object.
Objections must be as specific as possible. A mere â€œobjectionâ€ will not get the objecting party anywhere, and the judge will quickly tire of the vagueness. Instead, the reason for the objection should be stated, such as â€œobjectionâ€”hearsay.â€ There is no need to elaborate beyond this unless the judge requests an explanation for oneâ€™s foundation for making the objection, in which case one should be prepared to respond appropriately.
Responding to Judgeâ€™s Ruling
If a judge sustains an objection, do not say anything, including â€œthank you,â€ to the judge, or to the opposing party. Simply sit back down and wait for questioning to continue. Be preparedâ€”the opposing party may try to rephrase the same question in a new way that still warrants objection.
If the witness has already responded, and an objection to the answer is subsequently sustained, one should ask the judge to STRIKE the answer so that it does not become part of the court record of the trial.
If the judge overrules an objection, the moving party must decide how important the particular issue is to his/her case. If it is relatively minor, one can just accept the ruling and sit back down. If, however, one feels strongly about the objection, it is appropriate to say â€œMay I be heard, your honor?â€ The judge may allow a party to further elaborate on the grounds for their objection and can either let the overruling stand, change his/her mind and sustain the objection, or overrule but note the objection argument as potentially important to the case.
Responding to Objections
The best way to avoid objections to oneâ€™s own questioning of witnesses or offers of other evidence is to avoid anything objectionable. However, oneâ€™s opponent or his/her attorney will generally find something to object to.
When an objection by oneâ€™s opponent is overruled, there is no reason to thank the judge or say anything else to the judge or opposition; simply move on as smoothly as possible with questioning. It may be helpful to pose the question again or have the witness repeat the answer leading to the objection so that the decisionmaker grasps the information being offered without being hindered by the motionâ€™s disruption.
If the judge sustains an objection, the questioner can rephrase the question in a way that is acceptable. A party against whom an objection has been sustained can also make an OFFER OF PROOF. What the question or line of questioning seeks to prove must be clearly explained during the offer of proof. If the judge allows the inquiry, one can continue with questioning.
Types of Objections
The following is a list of commonly-used objections:
- Leading questions
- Vague questions
- Repetitive questions (asked and answered)
- Argumentative (attorney or questioner is arguing with the witness)
- Harassing the witness
- Witness incompetence
- Beyond the scope
- For exhibitsâ€”immaterial, irrelevant, or lack of foundation
While in most cases these objections will serve you well there are numerous other objections that you can make. Even seasoned attorneys struggle with making the right objection at the right time, so you should make sure that you are up on what particular objections you may be required to make at various points in your case.
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