September 27, 2019
5 Common Objections in Court You Should Master
You've no doubt seen a few sensationalized, Hollywood-style courtroom objections on television — or even witnessed a few trial objections in a real lawsuit. And you're wondering if you'll be able to handle common objections in court when you face your opponent.
Why You Should Learn Common Objections in Court
Courtroom objections are an essential component of trial. Lack of experience with courtroom objections could destroy your chances of winning your case. You don't want to give your opponent in court free rein to introduce improper evidence (or ask inappropriate questions of witnesses).
Plus, if you want introduce valid evidence or testimony — and your opponent keeps objecting because you don't know how to handle common objections in court — you'll never have the chance to introduce important evidence supporting your version of the facts to the judge or jury.
Mastering common objections in court is as much a skill as it is an art. This means that you CAN learn how to:
- Identify when you should object to testimony from a witness and when you should object to inappropriate questioning by the opposing attorney;
- Properly address the judge and state your objections in a clear, concise and accurate way;
- Refocus your line of questioning when the judge sustains an objection from the opposing attorney so you can get your testimony or evidence seen and considered by the jury.
In this article, we'll provide a list of objections that you should try to master before your trial date. And if your trial is tomorrow — you might want to pull an all-nighter.
5 Types of Objections You’ll Likely Encounter in Court
There is a high probability that you will encounter these five common evidentiary objections in court. Reading through this list of objections will help you learn how and when to object — and how to handle objections by the opposing attorney.
- You'll be able to identify if your opponent is doing something objectionable — so you can make a timely objection; and
- You will be able to form a strategy to recover from the objections of the opposing attorney (sustained by the judge) relating to these five common objections;
- We also provide you with objections in court examples so you can think through the process.
- Objection: Argumentative
When you hear the words, "Objection! Argumentative," you might think it means the attorney is accusing you of arguing. But that's likely not the case.
Argumentative is a legal term that means something similar to "drawing conclusions." For the sake of simplicity, we'll refer to them as an argumentative objection.
That means if you hear an argumentative objection, the questioner (attorney or self-represented party) is likely trying to offer a conclusion of what the evidence means rather than simply asking for the facts of what actually happened.
It is the jury's responsibility to decide whether to believe or find any testimony or evidence credible or persuasive. During the case-in-chief (includes questioning of witnesses), the witnesses, attorneys, self-represented parties, defendants, and plaintiffs are only allowed to recite the facts, not draw conclusions about the facts (until closing arguments) . To do so is argumentative.
Generally, a party in a lawsuit is only allowed to "argue" the facts of the case (i.e., draw conclusions) in closing arguments. Learn about trial basics here .
Argumentative objections are often made when the questions directed to the witness attempt to influence the witness' testimony by inserting the attorney's (or self-represented party's) interpretation of the evidence into the question.
Sample Argumentative Objection
Here is an example of an argumentative objection to help you see how it might work in a courtroom:
Attorney: How often did you get your brakes checked prior to the accident?
Witness: Twice a week.
Attorney: You expect this jury to believe that you got under your car, twice a week, every week, to check your brakes?
Self-represented Party: Objection! Argumentative.
You'll notice the words: "You expect this jury to believe…." Those words tip you off that the question is argumentative (and objectionable) because the attorney is stating what the jury should be expected to believe about something. Plus, the attorney takes the testimony beyond what the witness actually said.
The witness never said he got under the car twice a week — only that someone checked the brakes twice a week.
If you'd like additional tips on how to identify questions that may be objectionable as argumentative, you can check out Trial Objections 101: Making and Responding to Objections .
- Objection: Calls for Speculation
Speculation is a legal basis for objecting to witness testimony on grounds similar to the argumentative objection — because the evidence is not considered reliable or factual. A witness' testimony is limited to their personal knowledge of events (estimating is allowed, but most opinions are not). Speculating is even worse. It's akin to guessing — and it's not permitted.
We certainly wouldn't want a jury to decide a case based upon someone's guess. That's a primary reason we have rules of evidence: to establish a fair trial that is based on facts , not speculation. Learn more about rules of evidence (the backbone of evidentiary objections).
Lay witnesses (i.e., non-experts) may testify as to their personal knowledge in a case. But generally, they are not permitted to testify as to matters outside their first-hand knowledge.
A common reason for objections that call for speculation (or speculation objections) in court is when a party asks a witness to interpret someone else’s state of mind. No one can read another's mind.
Sample Objection for Speculation #1
Here is a specific example of a speculation objection so you can see how it might occur in a court of law:
Witness: A man with a glorious ponytail came in and bought a newspaper with his credit card.
Attorney: Why did the man use his credit card instead of paying with cash?
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Calls for speculation.
Attorney: Why did the man have a ponytail?
Self-Represented Party: Objection, calls for speculation — and irrelevant.
Judge: Sustained. Counsel, move on.
Sometimes courtroom objections based on speculation can be overcome by rewording a question, particularly in state of mind conclusions. A witness may not testify to a state of mind, but they can testify to what they saw.
Sample Objection for Speculation #2
Here is a second example of a speculation objection where the party is able to reword a question to get the desired testimony.
Self-Represented Party: Was the man with the ponytail thinking about killing the cashier for not refunding his money?
Attorney: Objection! Calls for speculation.
Self-Represented Party: What did the man with the ponytail do when the cashier did not refund his money for the newspaper?
Witness: His whole body tensed up, he slammed his fist on the counter, and raised his voice saying, "I'm not going to forget your face."
- Assumes Facts Not in Evidence Objections
Evidentiary objections such as assumes facts not in evidence are closely related to foundation objections (which we will discuss in number 4).
If a question references a fact that has not yet been presented or accepted as evidence, it can be objected to on that basis — because it assumes a fact that has not been established.
Sample Assumes Facts Not in Evidence Objection
Attorney: Where were you at the time of the accident?
Witness: I was standing at the bus stop right near the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and 7th Avenue.
Attorney: What did the driver of the black van throw out of the window?
Self-Represented Party: Objection. The question assumes facts not in evidence. And it’s a leading question.
Here, there was no testimony prior to this question that: (1) there was a black van, (2) the witness could see the driver, or that (3) the witness saw the driver throwing something out of the window.
When you are questioning a witness and your opponent objects to your question because it assumes facts not in evidence, it is usually a simple problem to fix.
We thoroughly discuss the solution in Trial Objections 101: Making and Responding to Objections .
Plus, below, we've provided an example of one way to get back on track. See example two of foundation objections (objections that are made because a question lacks foundation).
- Foundation Objections
As mentioned above, foundation objections are related to assumes facts not in evidence objections.
A common lack of foundation objection occurs when a party asks a question, but has not shown the court why the witness is qualified to answer the question. Basic foundations that need to be established before the question is permissible might include personal knowledge and familiarity with the topic.
Lack of foundation objections can occur when the examining attorney is going too fast and not asking preliminary questions to demonstrate the witness’ familiarity with the facts.
Example #1 of Foundation Objections
Here is a sample foundation objection dialogue that might happen at trial:
Attorney: Are you a tennis player?
Attorney: What percentage of a tennis ball is made of rubber?
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Lacks foundation.
In this lack of foundation example, there was no prior testimony establishing that (1) rubber is used in the production of tennis balls; or (2) that the witness has any knowledge regarding the manufacturing or composition of tennis balls.
Why would he, based on what you have just read? All we know is that the witness hits tennis balls — not manufactures them.
The attorney had not yet sufficiently laid a foundation for the question (in other words, she was going too fast in her line of questions).
Example #2 of Foundation Objections
Now, let’s assume that the attorney resumes her line of questioning to lay a proper foundation.
Attorney: Do you know what tennis balls are made of?
Attorney: How do you know that?
Witness: Before retiring in April, I worked as a floor supervisor at a tennis ball factory for 20 years.
Attorney: As part of your duties as a floor supervisor, were you involved in supervising the manufacture of tennis balls?
Attorney: Did you become familiar with the materials used to manufacture tennis balls?
Attorney: What materials are used to manufacture tennis balls?
Witness: Mainly rubber, with some wool.
Witness: I’d say about 85-90%.
See how she slowed down. Asked the right questions. And laid the legal foundation to get the testimony she needed in her case.
When your opponent objects for lack of foundation, DO NOT PANIC!
Just back up and ask the necessary foundational questions.
- Objection Non-Responsive
The non-responsive objection is a common objection used in court when a witness is not responding properly to questions asked under oath. Using this evidentiary objection is crucial when you have a witness who skirts around your question, rambles on and on, or gives testimony that goes beyond the scope of what you asked them.
It's critical to make these kinds of courtroom objections quickly because the witness may inadvertently (or intentionally) say something that is harmful to your case. Thankfully, with a little skill, you can have harmful testimony stricken from the record — you can watch an example in Trial Objections 101 .
Sample Non-Responsive Objection
Here is an example of a non-responsive objection:
Attorney: In what year did you meet Bozo?
Witness: We’ve known each other since we were students at clown school. A lot of people don’t know that Bozo was quite the ladies’ man . . . anyway, when he got back from his second tour in Afghanistan, after his divorce, I . . .
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Non-responsive.
Judge: Sustained. Mr. Pennywise, please answer the question.
Witness: Huh? What was the question?
Attorney: How long have you known Bozo?
Witness: 12 years . . . I’ve known him since the very day he won his third-straight hog-wrestling contest, and I’m telling you, no way Bozo is guilty of any of these charges . . .
Non-responsive witnesses can be a source of frustration for self-represented parties as well as seasoned attorneys. There are ways to counteract these kinds of witnesses which we discuss in Trial Objections 101 .
That concludes five common objections in court, but there are many more evidentiary objections you'll want to study if you want to be your (or your client's) best advocate in court so you can increase the chances of getting the outcome you desire at trial.
Do You Know the Other 13 Common Objections in Court?
Knowledge of five common objections is a great start.
But if you don't master (or at least begin to master) all of the common courtroom objections, you will likely have difficulty proving your claims or defenses in court.
Without the ability to properly make (and respond to) objections at trial — you may not have the chance to present significant facts and testimony to the judge and jury. Or, the opposing party may destroy your case by taking advantage of your lack of practical objection skills.
If you'd like to learn about 13 additional common courtroom objections that you will likely face at trial (and how to handle them), like: hearsay, improper character evidence, unfair prejudice, leading questions, badgering the witness, and more — check out the video litigation tutorial — Trial Objections 101: Making and Responding to Objections .
It's clear. Concise. Easy to understand. And includes HD video simulations of a self-represented party who stands before the judge making and responding to objections when necessary.
Nothing cements the basics of making solid objections in court like seeing the objection process in action. You'll be growing in confidence as you internalize objection skills and make them your own.
In the tutorial, you'll learn much more than how to make objections in court. The courtroom objections course will provide the confidence you need to identify objectionable testimony and other evidence, the insights to know when to object, and ways to handle the objections of the opposing attorney.
You can read more about Trial Objections 101 here .
We hope you will master common trial objections for your day in court.
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A statement or question that suggests that the facts support a particular inference or conclusion is argumentative. Argumentative questioning is often referred to as “badgering the witness.” The attorney is not looking for new information, but is instead simply trying to get the witness to argue with him. When this occurs during testimony, the opposing attorney will make an argumentative objection, by stating something like: "Objection your honor, argumentative." The Judge will then sustain the objection or reject it. If the objection is sustained, the opposing attorney must adjust his line of questioning.
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Top 10 Objections in Court | Get Ready for Trial
Written by Jarrett Stone
Strategically making Trial Objections in Court
Objections in the courtroom are a trial lawyer’s sword and shield.
On one hand, objections can shield the jury from hearing improper evidence that could harm your client’s case. Alternatively, objections can also be used to attack the other side’s case.
With both approaches, you need to be strategic with your objections. Objecting too much or at the wrong times may cause a jury to turn on you (a trial lawyer’s nightmare!).
Therefore, just because you CAN object does not mean you SHOULD object. Even a winning objection may not be worth the risks ( e.g. , annoying the jury, looking like you're hiding something) if there’s only a minimal effect on the actual trial.
So, use your judgment to determine the optimal times to object.
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You should always get a sense of whether speaking objections will be allowed (or tolerated) by the judge.
What are speaking objections?
Boiled down, speaking objections occur when a lawyer provides their thoughts and an argument when making an objection.
For example, a non-speaking objection is simply “Objection, hearsay.” Judges prefer this.
Meanwhile, a speaking objection goes a step further by saying something like, “Objection, this document is hearsay because it is being offered for the truth of the matter asserted and I’m unable to cross examine the declarant.”
See the difference?
Some judges truly despise speaking objections because those objections can slow the case down and risk the jury hearing something that the jury shouldn’t hear.
However, if the judge tolerates speaking objections, then you can indirectly educate the jury why you’re making the objection.
Since the judge will likely know why you're making the objection, the judge is not the real audience for your speaking objection. Instead, you're basically arguing to the judge in the hopes that the jury ( i.e. , your intended audience) is listening.
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"Objection, leading" is usually made when opposing counsel is asking leading questions during direct examination.
Remember, leading questions are usually prohibited (with some exceptions) during direct examination.
Because leading questions assume the answer within the question itself, lawyers could simply ask yes or no questions to their own witnesses on direct examination . In essence, the lawyer would be the one testifying, not the witness.
The leading objection prevents this so that the witnesses are actually testifying.
However, there is one popular exception to keep in mind. If, during direct examination, a lawyer asks a leading question regarding a foundational matter that is not particularly important, then it’s usually best to not object.
The rationale here is that some leading questions can be appropriate just to help speed the trial along.
For example, asking “you recognize this document, correct?” is a leading question that can be foundational to trying to get a document admitted into evidence. This innocent question would not be worth objecting to.
Contrast that with an instance when an attorney is asking “you saw the Plaintiff hit the Defendant, correct?” in a car wreck case. This leading question goes towards the heart of the case and should be objected to.
This one is critical.
Witnesses are allowed to testify about facts within their personal knowledge . Notice that facts are not the same as opinions.
"I saw a car traveling on the road" is a fact.
"I think the car on the road was speeding" is an opinion.
If the witness is not an expert, then their ability to provide opinions is limited . As a result, a non-expert witness that goes beyond the facts that they experienced and begins to provide an opinion should be a red flag to you.
In most situations, you never want to allow a non-expert witness to reach a conclusion based on a guess or speculation. It is the jury's role to fill in any gaps, not the non-expert witness.
Therefore, if you hear a non-expert witness speculating then you should definitely state "Objection, speculation."
If you're worried about the jury hearing improper evidence, then you may want to head off the issue with a Motion in Limine. Don't know what that is? Then watch the below video to learn more.
Calls for Speculation
This piggybacks off of the previous speculation objection.
"Objection, calls for speculation" is a slightly different objection because it tries to prevent the witness from even providing the speculative answer.
More specifically, this objection is challenging the question itself by claiming that the question is going to elicit an improper answer. The goal here is to prevent the jury from hearing improper evidence before the answer is ever said.
While you can object to an answer as speculation and get the judge to instruct the jury to disregard the answer, how effective will that actually be?
Can you really "unring" the bell? Probably not.
This is why "calls for speculation" can be so important.
If you can anticipate the answer as speculative, then objecting to the question is the safest way to eliminate the need to get a jury instruction to disregard the improper answer.
No answer, no problems.
Hearsay is the objection that gives lawyers the biggest headache.
Given the complexities of hearsay, this post is only going to touch on a few things to consider. Otherwise, this post will triple in length.
Hearsay is an out-of-court statement that is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
If you just scratched your head out of confusion, you're not alone.
Here is a super helpful video that provides more clarity on hearsay's definition and the "truth of the matter asserted" concept.
Once you understand the definition of hearsay, then you can begin to understand the basics of hearsay ( check out this detailed post with examples and video ).
Next, if you see an out-of-court statement being introduced into evidence, then your hearsay analysis should automatically kick in. Here's a video that breaks this analysis down into 7 steps.
Since a lot of lawyers are not comfortable with arguing hearsay, you can actually throw those lawyers off by making the hearsay objection. And once they stumble through their (likely terrible) arguments, be prepared to make a killer response in support of your objection.
On the flip side, if you're anticipating the other lawyer to make hearsay arguments against your client's evidence, then be sure to study up on your responses. For example, you may find yourself arguing the Present Sense Impression exception or the Excited Utterance exception.
Get ready to do some homework for this objection so you can bulletproof yourself!
Asked and Answered
Objecting to "asked and answered" usually occurs when your witness is on the stand and the opposing counsel is struggling on cross examination.
You'll often see lawyers struggling with their cross when they are getting a different answer than what they were expecting (or hoping for). In response, the lawyer asks the same question in a different way in the hopes to get a different answer.
However, when the answer remains the same, some lawyers keep coming up with variations of the same question that lead to (surprise) the same answer.
After the struggling lawyer does this for a few times, it may be worth saying "Objection, asked and answered" to help move the trial along (judges and juries tend to appreciate an efficient trial).
That said, there may be times when your witness is being a little dodgy and the other lawyer is not actually getting a direct answer.
In that scenario, consider making the asked-and-answered objection. While you're likely going to lose the objection, the objection and subsequent argument may be enough time for your witness to gather their thoughts and compose themselves for the upcoming questions.
It's all about strategy!
The relevance objection should be used sparingly.
The standard for evidence to be relevant is pretty low . The two factors are materiality and probative value .
Therefore, arguing that something is not relevant is likely going to lose -- unless the evidence is obviously irrelevant.
If you have a valid "Objection, relevance" argument, then be sure to have a soft touch with how you present the argument. The last thing you want to do is come off as cold because you consider something to be irrelevant.
Here is another objection that you will likely use when opposing counsel is struggling with cross examination.
You'll want to state "Objection, argumentative" when opposing counsel stops asking questions and begins making statements like opposing counsel is testifying.
You'll also want to object to the argumentative nature of a cross examination when opposing counsel is no longer asking questions, but instead, is arguing (or debating) your witness.
As a lawyer, you never want to bully a witness. Juries do not like bullies.
Therefore, if someone objects to your questions as being argumentative, then internally reflect with how the jury is seeing your cross examination.
If you were being a bit overly eager, then it may be better to tone it down a little.
Or if the other lawyer made the objection out of desperation, then you know that you're asking good questions.
"Objection, non-responsive" is a different situation from some of the earlier objections.
In particular, the non-responsive objection is typically made by you while you are cross examining a witness. You'll want to make this objection when the witness is not providing actual answers to your cross-examination questions.
Objecting to non-responsive answers should not be a crutch though. Just because you do not like the answers does not mean that the answers are non-responsive.
Often times, getting bad answers is a symptom of having bad cross examination questions.
And, unfortunately, a judge will have little sympathy for a lawyer that is struggling with cross examination. As a result, the court will likely overrule your non-responsive objection if your cross is weak.
Alternatively, if you have a strong cross that put a witness in a corner and the witness is failing to provide a real answer to the question, then consider making the non-responsive objection.
But, before objecting, it may be worth letting the witness dodge the answer a few times so the jury begins to question that witness's credibility.
The compound objection is designed to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
On cross examination, you'll often hear lawyers ask multiple questions within the same question. For example, "you were accepted to law school and then became a lawyer, correct?"
This "single" question is actually two questions in one. The tricky part is that if the witness says "yes," then is the witness confirming that she was accepted to law school or that she became a lawyer? Or is she confirming both?
By objecting to the compound nature of the question, you can simply clear up the matter for everyone.
In response to the objection, the other attorney can ask, "you were accepted in law school, correct?" And if the witness says "yes," then the attorney can ask "then you became a lawyer, correct?"
While this example may seem harmless, there are times when lawyers try to stuff so many questions and details into a question in the hopes that something will sneak by the witness.
Therefore, it is your job to protect your client's case by making sure that the other side handles each detail with one question at a time.
"Objection, Narrative" is a little tricky to define. You just know it when you see it.
You'll usually object to narrative when opposing counsel is on direct examination with their own witness and the witness is going on a rant or monologue that is well beyond the question itself.
This is the equivalent of asking someone what time it is and then getting the entire backstory to how they got their watch.
Once a witness is no longer answering a question that was asked or after the witness has been testifying for what seems like an eternity to everyone in the courtroom, you can do everyone a favor by objecting to narrative.
Again, the judge and jury want an efficient trial. If you can help them out with that, then hopefully they'll return the favor to some degree.
The best trial lawyers know how to make these courtroom objections and respond to the objections as well.
So, if you're preparing for trial, then be sure to go through the case's evidence with a fine-tooth comb. In doing so, ask yourself what objections you need to be making and what arguments support your objections.
Moreover, try to anticipate the objections that the other side will make and determine what your responses will be.
The right amount of preparation can potentially win your case before the trial even starts.
About the Author
Jarrett Stone is the founder of Law Venture and owner of Stone Firm, PLLC. He's a husband, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed nerd.
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Simplifying the excited utterance exception to hearsay, the present sense impression exception to the hearsay rule, a guide to hearsay + meaning, definition, overview, our free online courses.
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