One of the hallmarks of an effective trial attorney is knowing when and when not to object to evidence. When the other side has offered evidence that is subject to objection, and there’s a valid ground for excluding it, you need to make the split-second decision: whether to object, refrain from objecting, or follow an alternative course.
The principal reasons for making objections include:
- To exclude improper evidence, i.e., to keep from the trier of fact potentially harmful facts that are inadmissible or could be ruled inadmissible under Evid C §352;
- To make a record for appeal, i.e., to present the issue of the admissibility of the offered evidence in such a way that, if the trial judge rules incorrectly, the error can be used as a ground for appeal;
- To protect your witness from undue harassment or embarrassment (see Evid C §765);
- To expose the opposing party’s unfair tactics, e.g., leading the witness, assuming facts that are in dispute or not in evidence, or using the question to insinuate that inadmissible evidence exists;
- To prevent confusing the jury; and
- To make the interrogation as effective as practicable.
Even when one of these reasons exists in your situation, consider the many reasons to refrain from making an objection. Objections create the very real danger of alienating the jury, which often wants to hear witnesses tell their story without interruption. There is also the danger that objections will have the unintended effect of highlighting harmful evidence. You’ve got to weigh the potential harm from the evidence against the negative impact of your objection on the jury.
Instead of making individual objections to evidence, you might consider combining a series of objections through a continuing objection to a line of questioning or making an adoptive objection (i.e., “Same objection, Your Honor”) or a summary objection, which is technically an objection only to the last question asked but also refers to the preceding series of questions.
Remember that, even if you decide not to object, you can attack the evidence through impeaching the witness who presented it or by presenting evidence on rebuttal.
Overall, when you are deciding whether to make an objection to evidence, think about whether admission of the evidence will really hurt your case and, if so, how badly. Just because there is some harm threatened by the evidence, doesn’t make it a good idea to object. Keep in mind your audience; jurors may regard objections as just another part of a tedious, time-consuming game played by the attorneys and the judge and they may take out their wrath on you and your client.
For everything you need to know about making objections to evidence and opposing the objections, go to California Trial Objections.