I watched a young criminal defense lawyer struggle with objections the other day so I thought I would review the process we use to object. It always looks so cool on TV – the lawyer stands and announces "OBJECTION, YOUR HONOR, he can’t testify to that!" You expect the Judge to immediately stop the trial, chastise the lawyer and affirm the objecting party. In real life trials it seldom looks so clean. We stumble and stutter and spew out "objection" just loud enough to be heard, but without the conviction that we know why we are objecting. Here are four basic rules I learned as a young JAG that might help you as you stand and deliver:
First – say the word. "Objection." Say it with conviction so that you can accomplish the real reason you are up in the first place – say it like you mean it so the witness will stop talking!
Second – give a legal basis for the objection. Not a treatise, just a rule will do: "Objection, hearsay."
Third – if you win the objection then you probably want something. How should the court fix whatever problem caused you to get out of your chair? Ask for a remedy. Ask the court to strike the testimony given before the objection, or to cure the problem.
Fourth – if you lost the battle, you many need to make a record by an offer of proof. Not on every little objection, but sometimes you need to protect that record for an appeal.
So there are the rules, courtesy of the United States Army JAG school, as best I recall. Hope they help you do it better if you do it at all. And that might just be the bigger question: When should you object? Let’s save that for another day.
Off to court …