Making Objections in Trial

Posted by Joe Bodiford on

Objection!  How to make objections under the Federal Rules of Evidence

The number one thing I am asked as a teacher of advoacy is about how to make objections.  Like a football referee, you must know the rules in order to use them as a tool, a sword, and a shield.  Here are some quick ideas on how to make trial objections.

Know the Rules of Evidence

First, you have to know the objections.  Using eLEX's Federal Rules of Evidence Summary Trial Guide is the best place to start - on the back cover, you have the 28 most common objections at your fingertips.  What's more, each objection cites to the relevant rule.

Know your case and where objections may exist

Second, know your case. Anticipate hearsay, relevance, things a witness may speculate about, and the like.  You have your entire case well in advance of trial - why not go through everything and make a note of the objection you know you'll make? Better yet, know what objections your opponent will make, and have your arguments ready as to why the testimony or piece of evidence is admissible.  If you are really on your game, you may file a motion in limine to get a ruling on the evidence before the trial even starts.  Motions in limine are especially recommend (and appreciated by judges) when the issue is complicated and requires argument outside of the jury's presence.  Compare your case to the Federal Rules of Evidence - get the kinks worked out before trial!

Listen and react in real time

Finally, listen and react.  "John told me that . . . " should trigger a hearsay objection.  "I'm not sure, but I think . . ." should trigger a speculation or lack of personal knowledge objection.  Don't wait to make the objection; stand, say "objection, Your Honor" and state the legal basis for the objection.  If you need to argue, follow it with, "may I be heard?"  Most of the time, you won't need to - the judge is listening, and she or he will make a ruling.  If you need to argue, ask to be heard and to approach the bench or for a sidebar.  DO NOT make speaking objections in front of the jury!

Contemporaneous objections

Remember, you must be timely - contemporaneous objections are the hallmark of appellate review.  No objection, no issue for appeal.  Even if you need a moment, make your objection and ask, "may I have just a moment, Your Honor?"  Then consult your eLEX Federal Rules of Evidence Summary Trial Guide.  Don't forget to consult your trial partner!

Good luck, and keep objecting!