What is an objection?

In U.S. civil and criminal law, an “objection” is a formal protest against some piece of evidence, such as witness testimony or another item, because introducing it into the court record would violate the rules of evidence, the rules of procedure, or another applicable law or regulation.

Objections may be made whenever evidence is being introduced into a court record, either during discovery processes like the giving of a deposition or during a trial or hearing. Even though a judge is not present during a deposition, objections to deposition testimony are often raised in order to create a clear record on which to base a motion for summary judgment or similar pre-trial motion.

Objections may also be raised before trial by submitting a motion in limine.  Motions in limine are often used to prevent particularly prejudicial evidence from being made available to the jury, so that it cannot improperly sway their decisions.  If a motion in limine is granted, the party that made it does not have to raise an objection again at trial, though most attorneys typically do raise an objection to prevent the prohibited evidence from being admitted entirely and to make it clear on the record that the motion in limine is in effect.

In order to be considered, an objection must be:

  • timely, following quickly after the objectionable testimony or evidence appears,
  • grounded, stating a specific rule that makes the testimony or evidence valid,
  • clear, identifying both the party against whom the objection is made and the part of the testimony or other evidence that is objectionable.

In addition, if evidence that is admissible only for a limited purpose is offered for a general purpose, an objection must be made in order to limit the evidence to the appropriate purposes.  For instance, if a witness testifies that she was convicted of fraud, and this information is only appropriate for determining whether the witness can be trusted to tell the truth, the opposing party must object if the party who called the witness does not make it clear that the information about the fraud conviction may be used only to determine if the witness is trustworthy.

The list of possible objections to testimony and other evidence is a long one.  Many are based on the rules of evidence.  Some of the rules, like those that cover hearsay, have many exceptions, which a party or attorney needs to know thoroughly in order to respond appropriately to a hearsay objection in court.  Some of the most commonly-used objections includes:

  • the testimony is not relevant or is non-responsive, meaning that it does not answer the question asked.
  • the testimony is hearsay.
  • the question contains a legal argument, asks the witness to make a legal conclusion, asks for an opinion, or asks for speculation.
  • the question is a leading question.
  • the question asks the witness for a narrative answer instead of specific information.
  • the question asks for information that is privileged.
  • the attorney or party is badgering the witness to get a particular answer.
  • the question, testimony, or evidence is inflammatory or unfairly prejudicial.
  • the evidence has an improper foundation.
  • the question

In addition, an objection may be “continuing.”  A continuing objection is often made when an initial objection to a certain line of questioning, subject of testimony, or piece of evidence, is sustained, and the party wishes to make it clear on the record that he has not waived his objection.  Appeals are occasionally based on continuing objections, especially if the party believes that the evidence objected to was allowed in improperly and cost him the case.

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