The phrase “Objection, Your Honor!” adds drama in television and movies, but in real life, it prevents unfair or irrelevant testimony from making its way into trial proceedings and the court record. Testimony can be unfair or improper for many reasons, but some objections are more common than others and are based on a specific court rule that’s being broken.
When you testify in court, you can’t say, “He told me…” and not expect someone to argue that your testimony isn’t admissible. You can’t speak to what someone else has said, even if he said it to you. That individual must come to court personally to answer questions under oath. Otherwise, the evidence is hearsay and it’s one of the better-known objections.
Testimony That Speculates
You can’t speculate with your testimony, either. A lawyer can’t ask you why you think the defendant allegedly committed a crime. This isn’t for you to say so it’s against the rules of court and you might hear, “That calls for speculation, Your Honor.” An exception exists for expert witnesses. A psychiatrist would be permitted to answer that question because he’s trained to decipher why people do the things they do.
Rules About Relevance
You can’t talk about or be asked about evidence that hasn’t yet been presented to the court. This “assumes facts that are not in evidence.” Some questions may be “beyond scope,” typically in the context of cross-examination – if one attorney hasn’t already covered this ground with you, the second one to question you can’t introduce it. The catchall objection of “relevance” means that the question must have some real bearing on the case. Asking where you were headed if you witnessed a crime while standing on a street corner would probably violate the rule of relevance. Testimony that “lacks foundation” comes out of the blue – it relates to some evidence that the judge or jury has not yet been made aware of.
The Nature of Questioning
You typically can’t beat a dead horse in a court hearing, trial or deposition – although some lawyers may try to get you to do so in an effort to get a point across to the jury loud and clear. If someone objects by saying “asked and answered,” you’ve already responded to the question at hand and the opposing attorney wants to avoid having you say the same thing again so the judge or jury can hear it twice. “Compounding” involves asking you about two separate issues in the same question. An attorney might do this to try to confuse you into saying something you don’t mean to say. For example, he might ask, “When you stopped at the street corner, was the defendant visible to you and did he make eye contact with you?” The other attorney might object that this is a compound question and the judge could order the first attorney to rephrase it so you can address each point separately.
Leading the Witness
Courtroom dramas on television are riddled with the words, “Isn’t it true that…” but in real life, beginning a sentence this way is almost certain to result in an objection. Lawyers are not allowed to lead their witnesses, effectively prompting them to try to get them to say what they want them to say, whether they’re representing the witness or cross-examining him. A leading question is one that has a built-in answer. For example, “Why did you go to the street corner?” is fine, but “Did you go to the corner so you could cross the street?” would fall outside court rules. Leading questions are often easy to pick up on because they involve yes or no answers, but they’re not always off limits. If the court declares you to be a hostile witness – you’re being evasive or non-cooperative – leading questions are permissible. They’re also allowed during cross-examination, when one attorney has already questioned you and the other takes his turn.
Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.