Trial Objections: A Lose-Lose Proposition

When lawyers think of jury trial objections as an opportunity to school opposing counsel on the Rules of Evidence, they do their clients a very serious disservice.

This is because jury trials aren’t ultimately about what evidence is admitted. They are about who tells the more compelling story. Objections only make it more difficult to keep the jury headed in the right direction.

Even in the heat of battle that a trial can seem to be, lawyers do well if they keep in the front of their minds this fact: the jury has no idea what the Rules of Evidence are, or why they even exist. They just want a story they can believe.

Whether to, not just how to

Josh Camson wrote an excellent post on how to object. What’s equally important is knowing when. Objecting at times other than when absolutely necessary to keep crucial inadmissible evidence out will really hurt you.

Here’s why:

When you object, the jury has no idea why you don’t think they can hear this evidence. Then, they don’t get to hear the discussion of whether the evidence should come in. So, what is the only conclusion they can reach about your objection? You fear the result of the question being answered, so you are attempting to hide the truth.

Every time you object, you lose in one fashion or another. Even if you win, (objection sustained) you lose (you are a sneaky lawyer hiding the truth). And if you lose, (objection over-ruled) you lose three times: 1) sneaky lawyer tries to hide truth; 2) sneaky lawyer fails; 3) this evidence must be really important.)

The jury hates these evidentiary time-outs. They want to get on with it. So, as Josh pointed out, anticipate evidentiary issues in advance and handle them in limine. You should strive to avoid needing to object by knowing in advance what’s in and what’s out. If you do that, you shouldn’t find yourself needing to object as to admissibility during trial very often.

Sound apologetic, not triumphant

As for form objections, if you simply must object, try to sound apologetic rather than triumphant. If your tone suggests sympathy with the jury’s plight, they are a lot more likely to forgive you for stopping testimony. They may even forgive you for banishing them back to the jury room so you can vanquish your opponent.

A trial is a storytelling contest. Focus on telling yours well. Don’t object just because you can. If you did your homework, there should be no major surprises at trial. If you didn’t do your homework, objections aren’t going to save you.

I’m going to keep mentioning (and stealing from) this great book until you buy a copy: David Ball’s Theater Tips and Strategies for Jury Trials.



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  • Joe

    I don’t completely agree with everything here, but I agree with the overall message. I think objections can be useful – not just for their power to keep inadmissible evidence out, but also as a way to slow down a witness if you feel he (and opposing counsel) are getting on a roll. Or, I use them as a way to protect a witness from an argumentative lawyer. Of course, you need a valid objection to do that.

    Overall, though, I agree with most of what you wrote. Not only does the jury not understand the rules of evidence, they most likely do not want to be there and are fervently wishing the trial was over so they could go somewhere else. Objections only keep them there longer. My goal in trial is to get the jury to like me. If they like me, they’re more likely to believe my side of things. Objections pretty much never help them like me.

    • Annette Henry

      I too agree that needless objections shouldn’t be made. Especially to form. If counsel is leading the witness on unimportant testimony, let it go. It speeds things along. However, be aware of what needs to be objected to in order to protect your record. There is nothing like losing a case, and finding out you didn’t properly protect the record and have ruined chances of a successful appeal.

      I deal with the jury issue on voir dire. I discuss with them that both sides might make objections – might seem like we’re trying to keep things from them – but that there are rules of evidence and procedure that we have to follow if we are doing our job. I get the panel to discuss what they think about that, and hopefully the actual jurors remember that when objections are made during the trial.

  • From a criminal defense perspective, I think you have to be careful with the advise of limiting objections..

    Objections are the way we preserve issues for appeal. Sometimes our clients are facing probation for a misdemeanor if they lose the trial. But sometimes, they are facing life in prison. And sometimes the facts in our case are terrible, and a conviction is a real likelihood. We have to preserve the issues. (Caveat: I am a Florida Lawyer, and our appellate Judges will overturn a conviction when justified. I do understand that in certain Southern States the appeals process is more rubber stamping convictions…

    A problem with only objecting to “crucial”evidence: What we lawyers think as inconsequential evidence may be something that the jurors find important. I have heard some things from jury members or struck panelists who hung around for the show that blow my mind. And of course, we have all heard jury “questions” that make us think, “why does that matter!?”.

    Best practice is to minimize the “bad” evidence when possible. Specifically Hearsay, Speculation (ie. drawing inference for the Jury), and cops who transform themselves into scientific experts with the “right” prosecutor questions.

    With all that said, I do agree with the theme that treating court like law school can be damaging to the case. Jurors are human beings. If you are a jerk and objecting for the sake of objecting (and being really snotty about it), the jury may dislike you. Or feel sympathy for the other side. And while that may not be fatal to your cause, it is not helpful. In all stories, there is a good guy and a bad guy. Try to make sure you (and your client) are not the bad guys.

  • I understand what Christian is saying about preserving your record for an appeal, but chances on appeal in any given case are quite small. Trial lawyers pick the objection tactics that will help them win at the trial level. Sacrificing a trial outcome to protect an appellate prospect is a losing proposition.