Top 10 Objections in Court | Get Ready for Trial

Written by Jarrett Stone

Strategically making Trial Objections in Court

Objections in the courtroom are a trial lawyer’s sword and shield.

On one hand, objections can shield the jury from hearing improper evidence that could harm your client’s case. Alternatively, objections can also be used to attack the other side’s case.

With both approaches, you need to be strategic with your objections. Objecting too much or at the wrong times may cause a jury to turn on you (a trial lawyer’s nightmare!). 

Therefore, just because you CAN object does not mean you SHOULD object. Even a winning objection may not be worth the risks (e.g., annoying the jury, looking like you're hiding something) if there’s only a minimal effect on the actual trial. 

So, use your judgment to determine the optimal times to object.

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Speaking Objections

You should always get a sense of whether speaking objections will be allowed (or tolerated) by the judge. 

What are speaking objections?

Boiled down, speaking objections occur when a lawyer provides their thoughts and an argument when making an objection. 

For example, a non-speaking objection is simply “Objection, hearsay.” Judges prefer this.

Meanwhile, a speaking objection goes a step further by saying something like, “Objection, this document is hearsay because it is being offered for the truth of the matter asserted and I’m unable to cross examine the declarant.”

See the difference?

Some judges truly despise speaking objections because those objections can slow the case down and risk the jury hearing something that the jury shouldn’t hear. 

However, if the judge tolerates speaking objections, then you can indirectly educate the jury why you’re making the objection.

Since the judge will likely know why you're making the objection, the judge is not the real audience for your speaking objection. Instead, you're basically arguing to the judge in the hopes that the jury (i.e., your intended audience) is listening.

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Objection #1: Leading

"Objection, leading" is usually made when opposing counsel is asking leading questions during direct examination.

Remember, leading questions are usually prohibited (with some exceptions) during direct examination.

Because leading questions assume the answer within the question itself, lawyers could simply ask yes or no questions to their own witnesses on direct examination. In essence, the lawyer would be the one testifying, not the witness.

The leading objection prevents this so that the witnesses are actually testifying.

However, there is one popular exception to keep in mind. If, during direct examination, a lawyer asks a leading question regarding a foundational matter that is not particularly important, then it’s usually best to not object.

The rationale here is that some leading questions can be appropriate just to help speed the trial along.

For example, asking “you recognize this document, correct?” is a leading question that can be foundational to trying to get a document admitted into evidence. This innocent question would not be worth objecting to. 

Contrast that with an instance when an attorney is asking “you saw the Plaintiff hit the Defendant, correct?” in a car wreck case. This leading question goes towards the heart of the case and should be objected to. 

Objection #2: Speculation

This one is critical.

Witnesses are allowed to testify about facts within their personal knowledge. Notice that facts are not the same as opinions. 

"I saw a car traveling on the road" is a fact.

"I think the car on the road was speeding" is an opinion. 

If the witness is not an expert, then their ability to provide opinions is limited. As a result, a non-expert witness that goes beyond the facts that they experienced and begins to provide an opinion should be a red flag to you. 

In most situations, you never want to allow a non-expert witness to reach a conclusion based on a guess or speculation. It is the jury's role to fill in any gaps, not the non-expert witness. 

Therefore, if you hear a non-expert witness speculating then you should definitely state "Objection, speculation."

Quick Tip

If you're worried about the jury hearing improper evidence, then you may want to head off the issue with a Motion in Limine. Don't know what that is? Then watch the below video to learn more. 

Objection #3: Calls for Speculation

This piggybacks off of the previous speculation objection.

"Objection, calls for speculation" is a slightly different objection because it tries to prevent the witness from even providing the speculative answer. 

More specifically, this objection is challenging the question itself by claiming that the question is going to elicit an improper answer. The goal here is to prevent the jury from hearing improper evidence before the answer is ever said. 

While you can object to an answer as speculation and get the judge to instruct the jury to disregard the answer, how effective will that actually be?

Can you really "unring" the bell? Probably not.

This is why "calls for speculation" can be so important.

If you can anticipate the answer as speculative, then objecting to the question is the safest way to eliminate the need to get a jury instruction to disregard the improper answer. 

No answer, no problems.

Objection #4: Hearsay

Hearsay is the objection that gives lawyers the biggest headache.

Given the complexities of hearsay, this post is only going to touch on a few things to consider. Otherwise, this post will triple in length. 

Hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.

Huh?

If you just scratched your head out of confusion, you're not alone.

Here is a super helpful video that provides more clarity on hearsay's definition and the "truth of the matter asserted" concept. 

Once you understand the definition of hearsay, then you can begin to understand the basics of hearsay (check out this detailed post with examples and video).

Next, if you see an out-of-court statement being introduced into evidence, then your hearsay analysis should automatically kick in. Here's a video that breaks this analysis down into 7 steps. 

Since a lot of lawyers are not comfortable with arguing hearsay, you can actually throw those lawyers off by making the hearsay objection. And once they stumble through their (likely terrible) arguments, be prepared to make a killer response in support of your objection.

On the flip side, if you're anticipating the other lawyer to make hearsay arguments against your client's evidence, then be sure to study up on your responses. For example, you may find yourself arguing the Present Sense Impression exception or the Excited Utterance exception.

Get ready to do some homework for this objection so you can bulletproof yourself!

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Objection #5: Asked and Answered

Objecting to "asked and answered" usually occurs when your witness is on the stand and the opposing counsel is struggling on cross examination. 

You'll often see lawyers struggling with their cross when they are getting a different answer than what they were expecting (or hoping for). In response, the lawyer asks the same question in a different way in the hopes to get a different answer.

However, when the answer remains the same, some lawyers keep coming up with variations of the same question that lead to (surprise) the same answer. 

After the struggling lawyer does this for a few times, it may be worth saying "Objection, asked and answered" to help move the trial along (judges and juries tend to appreciate an efficient trial). 

That said, there may be times when your witness is being a little dodgy and the other lawyer is not actually getting a direct answer.

In that scenario, consider making the asked-and-answered objection. While you're likely going to lose the objection, the objection and subsequent argument may be enough time for your witness to gather their thoughts and compose themselves for the upcoming questions. 

It's all about strategy!

Objection #6: Relevance

The relevance objection should be used sparingly.

The standard for evidence to be relevant is pretty low. The two factors are materiality and probative value.

Therefore, arguing that something is not relevant is likely going to lose -- unless the evidence is obviously irrelevant.

If you have a valid "Objection, relevance" argument, then be sure to have a soft touch with how you present the argument. The last thing you want to do is come off as cold because you consider something to be irrelevant. 

Objection #7: Argumentative

Here is another objection that you will likely use when opposing counsel is struggling with cross examination.

You'll want to state "Objection, argumentative" when opposing counsel stops asking questions and begins making statements like opposing counsel is testifying.

You'll also want to object to the argumentative nature of a cross examination when opposing counsel is no longer asking questions, but instead, is arguing (or debating) your witness. 

As a lawyer, you never want to bully a witness. Juries do not like bullies.

Therefore, if someone objects to your questions as being argumentative, then internally reflect with how the jury is seeing your cross examination. 

If you were being a bit overly eager, then it may be better to tone it down a little.

Or if the other lawyer made the objection out of desperation, then you know that you're asking good questions. 

Objection #8: Non-responsive

"Objection, non-responsive" is a different situation from some of the earlier objections. 

In particular, the non-responsive objection is typically made by you while you are cross examining a witness. You'll want to make this objection when the witness is not providing actual answers to your cross-examination questions.

Objecting to non-responsive answers should not be a crutch though. Just because you do not like the answers does not mean that the answers are non-responsive.

Often times, getting bad answers is a symptom of having bad cross examination questions.

And, unfortunately, a judge will have little sympathy for a lawyer that is struggling with cross examination. As a result, the court will likely overrule your non-responsive objection if your cross is weak. 

Alternatively, if you have a strong cross that put a witness in a corner and the witness is failing to provide a real answer to the question, then consider making the non-responsive objection.

But, before objecting, it may be worth letting the witness dodge the answer a few times so the jury begins to question that witness's credibility. 

Objection #9: Compound

The compound objection is designed to make sure that everyone is on the same page. 

On cross examination, you'll often hear lawyers ask multiple questions within the same question. For example, "you were accepted to law school and then became a lawyer, correct?"

This "single" question is actually two questions in one. The tricky part is that if the witness says "yes," then is the witness confirming that she was accepted to law school or that she became a lawyer? Or is she confirming both?

By objecting to the compound nature of the question, you can simply clear up the matter for everyone.

In response to the objection, the other attorney can ask, "you were accepted in law school, correct?" And if the witness says "yes," then the attorney can ask "then you became a lawyer, correct?"

While this example may seem harmless, there are times when lawyers try to stuff so many questions and details into a question in the hopes that something will sneak by the witness. 

Therefore, it is your job to protect your client's case by making sure that the other side handles each detail with one question at a time. 

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Objection #10: Narrative

"Objection, Narrative" is a little tricky to define. You just know it when you see it.

You'll usually object to narrative when opposing counsel is on direct examination with their own witness and the witness is going on a rant or monologue that is well beyond the question itself.

This is the equivalent of asking someone what time it is and then getting the entire backstory to how they got their watch. 

Once a witness is no longer answering a question that was asked or after the witness has been testifying for what seems like an eternity to everyone in the courtroom, you can do everyone a favor by objecting to narrative. 

Again, the judge and jury want an efficient trial. If you can help them out with that, then hopefully they'll return the favor to some degree.

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Conclusion

The best trial lawyers know how to make these courtroom objections and respond to the objections as well. 

So, if you're preparing for trial, then be sure to go through the case's evidence with a fine-tooth comb. In doing so, ask yourself what objections you need to be making and what arguments support your objections. 

Moreover, try to anticipate the objections that the other side will make and determine what your responses will be. 

The right amount of preparation can potentially win your case before the trial even starts. 

About the Author

Jarrett Stone is the founder of Law Venture and owner of Stone Firm, PLLC. He's a husband, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed nerd.

Read More Articles:

Simplifying the Excited Utterance Exception to Hearsay
The Present Sense Impression Exception to the Hearsay Rule
Top 10 Objections in Court | Get Ready for Trial
A Guide to Hearsay + Meaning, Definition, Overview

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