Anyone who has watched trial dramas on television or in movies knows that much of the jousting that occurs in the courtroom involves attorneys for each side jumping up to object to questions being asked by the opposing attorney. The judge will then ‘sustain’ or ‘overrule’ the objection.
If an objection is sustained it means the attorney’s question to the witness is improper and the witness must not answer, as a Coeur d’Alene ID attorney can explain. If an objection is overruled, it means that the question is proper and therefore the witness must answer the question.
The complex rules of evidence are essentially designed so that the jury only hears testimony and receive documentary evidence that is relevant to the case being tried.
For example, assume that John Smith has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, claiming racial discrimination. What if Smith had filed a similar lawsuit eight years in the past? That fact should have no bearing on the current lawsuit. The parties involved in a lawsuit should only be able to admit evidence directly related to the current dispute.
The attorney representing Smith must maintain careful vigilance as the employer’s attorney asks questions of witnesses. If that attorney asks an improper question, seeking evidence that should not be heard by the jury, the attorney must quickly ask himself two questions:
- Is it really clear that this is an improper question?
- If it is an improper question, is it worth annoying the jury by making an objection?
Factor number 2 is extremely important. Regardless of the merits of the objection, it is almost inevitable that some of the jurors will assume that the objection is based on the fact that the attorney wants to hide something. After all, the thinking goes, the attorney would not object to that evidence unless it was damaging evidence. So even if that attorney wins the objection dispute, the result may be net loss to the client in terms of the jury’s perception of the case.
Therefore the client’s attorney must ask himself if the sought after improper evidence is so extremely damaging that it is worth alienating the jury by making the objection.
Moreover, the jury may be doubly annoyed because, in some instances, the attorneys’ arguments over the evidence are so complex that the judge sends the jury out of the courtroom while judge listens to the arguments and makes a ruling. So now the jurors, who are already annoyed by being taken away from the jobs for the trial, see the objecting attorney as someone who is lengthening the trial process by making these objections.
One way that attorneys can avoid having to make numerous objections at trial is to file in limine motions prior to the trial. These are motions which seek the judge’s ruling on anticipated improper questions before the trial begins.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Bendell Law Firm for their insight into objections.