Courtrooms are places that most people would rather avoid. Most people associate courtrooms with lawsuits or criminal charges, and the procedures and terminology used by judges and lawyers can make it difficult for the average person to understand what is taking place. An attorney rising from his or her chair to shout, “Objection,” might seem odd, but there is a meaning behind each and every objection raised by an attorney. Here are five of the most common courtroom objections and their meanings to help you to understand what is happening.
An out of court third-party statement offered for its truth by a witness might be inadmissible as evidence because it is hearsay. “John told me that he saw the defendant commit the crime,” is an example of a hearsay statement because the witness is repeating something said by another person. The reason for the hearsay rule is that John is not present in court to be cross examined about factors such as lighting conditions or his eyesight.
Speculation by a witness
“I saw John running out of the store, so he must have been the person who robbed it,” is an example of speculation by the witness. The witness can testify that John was seen running out of the store, but the rest of the testimony is speculation because John could also have been running away from the person who actually committed the crime.
A leading question is one that is phrased in such a way as to provide the answer to the witness or lead the witness toward the answer the attorney wants to hear. As a general rule, leading questions can be answered with either “yes” or “no.” “Did John return to the house at 9 p.m.” is an example of a leading question. Leading questions are permitted during cross examination of a witness.
Expert witnesses, due to their training, education, experience and knowledge, can be asked questions seeking their opinion on a particular topic or issue. Before the opinion can be offered, the attorney asking the question must lay a foundation that demonstrates the expertise of the witness. This is usually accomplished by asking the witness to list his or her credentials and background.
The purpose of the evidence offered at a trial is to prove something that is in controversy. Sometimes, the value of the evidence is outweighed by its prejudicial nature. For example the introduction of photographs taken during an autopsy might be objected to by defense counsel as being prejudicial because of the shocking images they portray. The attorney making the objection might argue that the testimony of the medical examiner who performed the autopsy is sufficient to prove the cause of death without the inflammatory photos.
The rules and procedures for objections have changed over the years. Today, lawyers frequently make an objection without stating a reason for it which is now an acceptable procedure over the older rule requiring the lawyer to explain the basis for each objection.