Everyone is familiar with the courtroom scene where the lawyer stands up and says, “Objection, your honor.” The judge then rules on the objection, deciding whether to sustain it or overrule it. If the judge sustains the objection, opposing counsel cannot continue with that line of questioning. Your lawyer must be quick on their feet, or else you would lose the right to object. In other words, silence amounts to a waiver of the objection.
There are numerous reasons why your attorney may object. Here are some of the common reasons why attorneys may object to questions asked in court.
People often use the word “hearsay” without really understanding what it means in a legal context. Hearsay is when someone tries to prove the truth of something by repeating what they heard from someone else. For example, if you are trying to prove that someone stole a car, testimony saying “Steve told me that John stole a car” would be considered hearsay. The reason is that your lawyer would need the ability to directly cross-examine the person who claims that they saw the act.
Hearsay is not automatically inadmissible. There are a number of exceptions to the hearsay rules, such as an excited utterance or a present sense impression. For example, if the witness heard someone else scream out that “John shot me,” it could be an excited utterance that is admissible. These are much less likely to be made up because they occur in the heat of the moment. An attorney must have a deep foundation in hearsay rules because they are among the most common issues at trial.
The witness must answer a question on their own and without any coaching or influence from the lawyer who is questioning them. Through their questioning, an attorney can leave a very strong impression about how they want the witness to answer the question. For example, the lawyer could ask something along the lines of “you saw John shoot Steve, didn’t you?” This type of question is not really a question. It is a statement with which the attorney is asking the witness to agree. In effect, the attorney is the one who is doing the testifying.
The attorney must ask the witness what they saw, as opposed to suggesting what they saw and having the witness agree with them. When the judge sustains an objection to a leading question, the lawyer would need to rephrase the question to allow the witness to answer it on their own. Otherwise, it is as if the lawyer is in the position of testifying themselves and just having the witness voice their agreement.
Relevant information is defined as “evidence which has at least some tendency to make a fact at issue more or less true.” Anything that does not fall into that category is irrelevant.
Jurors must maintain their focus throughout the trial. They may see much evidence and hear many witnesses. If attorneys are asking about things that are not relevant to the trial, it can distract the jury. Judges have a limited amount of time, and cases cannot drag on forever. Attorneys need to get to the point to avoid wasting the court’s resources.
Irrelevant questions can get information that you do not want a jury to hear that can affect their opinion of you. For example, if you are on trial for weapons charges, asking about your sexual history would be irrelevant.
Judges would not direct an attorney to reframe an irrelevant question. Instead, they would bar an attorney from asking about the topic at all.
Witnesses are called to testify about things that are within their knowledge. They should not be guessing about what they do not know. However, some questions may call for the witness to offer a guess. To testify, a witness needs to know a fact to be true. Witnesses are called to testify about facts rather than opinions.
Witnesses may be asked something along the lines of “how fast do you think a car was going?” This example of a question calls for speculation. The witness can testify that they thought a car was going very fast, but they cannot say, “I think the car was going 75.” They have no way of knowing this fact.
If the judge sustains an objection on these grounds, the attorney would need to rephrase their question.
The key difference with this objection is that it is in response to the answer and not the question asked. The witness must answer the question that was asked of them instead of going off in a different direction and providing an unrelated answer. Not only does being non-responsive waste the court’s time, but there is also a danger that the witness could provide prejudicial information.
If your lawyer is cross-examining a witness, they will be framing the questions in a very specific way. Your attorney is looking for yes or no answers. The witness should not editorialize in response to the questions. If they do, the judge may strike the answer to the question as non-responsive.
If the judge allows evidence that violates rules of evidence, it may be grounds for an appeal if you are convicted at trial. To appeal, your lawyer would need to have objected to the question or answer at trial.
Contact an Appleton Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you have been charged with a crime, you need an attorney who knows how to handle your case if it goes to trial. You may decide to fight the charges against you, and you must have an attorney to ensure that the prosecution is unable to ask questions that violate the rules and your legal rights. The attorneys at Hogan Eickhoff are hard-nosed litigators who are not afraid of a fight in court. To schedule your free initial consultation, you can send us a message online or call us today at (920) 450-9800.