When you watch a courtroom drama, you’ll hear “Objection!” at least a few times – but what does it really mean, and when do criminal defense lawyers use it? This guide explains
What Does “Objection” Mean in Court?
An objection is a formal protest that an attorney can use when they disagree about evidence or testimony being used in the case. That happens when one side believes the other is using evidence or testimony that violates the rules of evidence or procedural law.
For example, if a witness says, “My friend told me that the defendant was walking behind the bank before it was robbed,” the criminal defense attorney may object – that answer is hearsay. The witness didn’t see the defendant walking behind the bank; they’re relying on what someone else may have said.
Reasons Attorneys May Object
There are several reasons a criminal defense attorney may object in court, including:
- Relevance: When a question or answer doesn’t have any bearing on the case, such as “Is Ms. Jones a good, upstanding member of the community?” when someone is on trial for assaulting Ms. Jones in a bar.
- Hearsay: When a question or answer depends on a second-hand account of events, such as “So-and-so told me…”
- Opinion: When a question or answer hinges on the witness’s opinion, such as, “Do you think that people who are members of that political party are more likely to commit crimes?”
- Speculation: When a question or answer revolves around a witness’s speculation, such as “I didn’t see him that day, but he was probably at the movies with his friends.”
- Asked and answered: When an attorney asks repeated questions with the same answers, such as “You weren’t anywhere near the dock that morning? You didn’t go to the dock at 10 a.m.? Were you on the dock that morning? Had you been on the dock between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.?”
- Leading questions: When a question assumes an answer, such as “The intruder came in through the door from the well-lit porch? The entryway light was on? You had enough lighting to see his face?”
- Compound questions: When an attorney asks more than one question at a time, such as “Did you witness the assault, and was the person wearing a mask and red sneakers?”
The judge presiding over the case has two choices when an attorney objects: They can overrule it or sustain it.
When a judge overrules an objection, the evidence or testimony is fine to submit to the court – the trial goes on. When a judge sustains an objection, the attorney must either rephrase their question or explain why the evidence or testimony is important.
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