5 Common Objections in Court You Should Master
Chances are you are not looking for information on common objections in court out of sheer curiosity. You are probably representing yourself in a lawsuit (or thinking about it) — or you are a new attorney with little trial experience.
You've no doubt seen a few sensationalized, Hollywood-style courtroom objections on television — or even witnessed a few trial objections in a real lawsuit. And you're wondering if you'll be able to handle common objections in court when you face your opponent.
Why You Should Learn Common Objections in Court
Courtroom objections are an essential component of trial. Lack of experience with courtroom objections could destroy your chances of winning your case. You don't want to give your opponent in court free rein to introduce improper evidence (or ask inappropriate questions of witnesses).
Plus, if you want introduce valid evidence or testimony — and your opponent keeps objecting because you don't know how to handle common objections in court — you'll never have the chance to introduce important evidence supporting your version of the facts to the judge or jury.
Mastering common objections in court is as much a skill as it is an art. This means that you CAN learn how to:
- Identify when you should object to testimony from a witness and when you should object to inappropriate questioning by the opposing attorney;
- Properly address the judge and state your objections in a clear, concise and accurate way;
- Refocus your line of questioning when the judge sustains an objection from the opposing attorney so you can get your testimony or evidence seen and considered by the jury.
In this article, we'll provide a list of objections that you should try to master before your trial date. And if your trial is tomorrow — you might want to pull an all-nighter.
5 Types of Objections You’ll Likely Encounter in Court
There is a high probability that you will encounter these five common evidentiary objections in court. Reading through this list of objections will help you learn how and when to object — and how to handle objections by the opposing attorney.
- You'll be able to identify if your opponent is doing something objectionable — so you can make a timely objection; and
- You will be able to form a strategy to recover from the objections of the opposing attorney (sustained by the judge) relating to these five common objections;
- We also provide you with objections in court examples so you can think through the process.
- Objection: Argumentative
When you hear the words, "Objection! Argumentative," you might think it means the attorney is accusing you of arguing. But that's likely not the case.
Argumentative is a legal term that means something similar to "drawing conclusions." For the sake of simplicity, we'll refer to them as an argumentative objection.
That means if you hear an argumentative objection, the questioner (attorney or self-represented party) is likely trying to offer a conclusion of what the evidence means rather than simply asking for the facts of what actually happened.
It is the jury's responsibility to decide whether to believe or find any testimony or evidence credible or persuasive. During the case-in-chief (includes questioning of witnesses), the witnesses, attorneys, self-represented parties, defendants, and plaintiffs are only allowed to recite the facts, not draw conclusions about the facts (until closing arguments). To do so is argumentative.
Generally, a party in a lawsuit is only allowed to "argue" the facts of the case (i.e., draw conclusions) in closing arguments. Learn about trial basics here.
Argumentative objections are often made when the questions directed to the witness attempt to influence the witness' testimony by inserting the attorney's (or self-represented party's) interpretation of the evidence into the question.
Sample Argumentative Objection
Here is an example of an argumentative objection to help you see how it might work in a courtroom:
Attorney: How often did you get your brakes checked prior to the accident?
Witness: Twice a week.
Attorney: You expect this jury to believe that you got under your car, twice a week, every week, to check your brakes?
Self-represented Party: Objection! Argumentative.
You'll notice the words: "You expect this jury to believe…." Those words tip you off that the question is argumentative (and objectionable) because the attorney is stating what the jury should be expected to believe about something. Plus, the attorney takes the testimony beyond what the witness actually said.
The witness never said he got under the car twice a week — only that someone checked the brakes twice a week.
If you'd like additional tips on how to identify questions that may be objectionable as argumentative, you can check out Trial Objections 101: Making and Responding to Objections.
- Objection: Calls for Speculation
Speculation is a legal basis for objecting to witness testimony on grounds similar to the argumentative objection — because the evidence is not considered reliable or factual. A witness' testimony is limited to their personal knowledge of events (estimating is allowed, but most opinions are not). Speculating is even worse. It's akin to guessing — and it's not permitted.
We certainly wouldn't want a jury to decide a case based upon someone's guess. That's a primary reason we have rules of evidence: to establish a fair trial that is based on facts, not speculation. Learn more about rules of evidence (the backbone of evidentiary objections).
Lay witnesses (i.e., non-experts) may testify as to their personal knowledge in a case. But generally, they are not permitted to testify as to matters outside their first-hand knowledge.
A common reason for objections that call for speculation (or speculation objections) in court is when a party asks a witness to interpret someone else’s state of mind. No one can read another's mind.
Sample Objection for Speculation #1
Here is a specific example of a speculation objection so you can see how it might occur in a court of law:
Witness: A man with a glorious ponytail came in and bought a newspaper with his credit card.
Attorney: Why did the man use his credit card instead of paying with cash?
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Calls for speculation.
Attorney: Why did the man have a ponytail?
Self-Represented Party: Objection, calls for speculation — and irrelevant.
Judge: Sustained. Counsel, move on.
Sometimes courtroom objections based on speculation can be overcome by rewording a question, particularly in state of mind conclusions. A witness may not testify to a state of mind, but they can testify to what they saw.
Sample Objection for Speculation #2
Here is a second example of a speculation objection where the party is able to reword a question to get the desired testimony.
Self-Represented Party: Was the man with the ponytail thinking about killing the cashier for not refunding his money?
Attorney: Objection! Calls for speculation.
Self-Represented Party: What did the man with the ponytail do when the cashier did not refund his money for the newspaper?
Witness: His whole body tensed up, he slammed his fist on the counter, and raised his voice saying, "I'm not going to forget your face."
- Assumes Facts Not in Evidence Objections
Evidentiary objections such as assumes facts not in evidence are closely related to foundation objections (which we will discuss in number 4).
If a question references a fact that has not yet been presented or accepted as evidence, it can be objected to on that basis — because it assumes a fact that has not been established.
Sample Assumes Facts Not in Evidence Objection
Attorney: Where were you at the time of the accident?
Witness: I was standing at the bus stop right near the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and 7th Avenue.
Attorney: What did the driver of the black van throw out of the window?
Self-Represented Party: Objection. The question assumes facts not in evidence. And it’s a leading question.
Here, there was no testimony prior to this question that: (1) there was a black van, (2) the witness could see the driver, or that (3) the witness saw the driver throwing something out of the window.
When you are questioning a witness and your opponent objects to your question because it assumes facts not in evidence, it is usually a simple problem to fix.
We thoroughly discuss the solution in Trial Objections 101: Making and Responding to Objections.
Plus, below, we've provided an example of one way to get back on track. See example two of foundation objections (objections that are made because a question lacks foundation).
- Foundation Objections
As mentioned above, foundation objections are related to assumes facts not in evidence objections.
A common lack of foundation objection occurs when a party asks a question, but has not shown the court why the witness is qualified to answer the question. Basic foundations that need to be established before the question is permissible might include personal knowledge and familiarity with the topic.
Lack of foundation objections can occur when the examining attorney is going too fast and not asking preliminary questions to demonstrate the witness’ familiarity with the facts.
Example #1 of Foundation Objections
Here is a sample foundation objection dialogue that might happen at trial:
Attorney: Are you a tennis player?
Attorney: What percentage of a tennis ball is made of rubber?
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Lacks foundation.
In this lack of foundation example, there was no prior testimony establishing that (1) rubber is used in the production of tennis balls; or (2) that the witness has any knowledge regarding the manufacturing or composition of tennis balls.
Why would he, based on what you have just read? All we know is that the witness hits tennis balls — not manufactures them.
The attorney had not yet sufficiently laid a foundation for the question (in other words, she was going too fast in her line of questions).
Example #2 of Foundation Objections
Now, let’s assume that the attorney resumes her line of questioning to lay a proper foundation.
Attorney: Do you know what tennis balls are made of?
Attorney: How do you know that?
Witness: Before retiring in April, I worked as a floor supervisor at a tennis ball factory for 20 years.
Attorney: As part of your duties as a floor supervisor, were you involved in supervising the manufacture of tennis balls?
Attorney: Did you become familiar with the materials used to manufacture tennis balls?
Attorney: What materials are used to manufacture tennis balls?
Witness: Mainly rubber, with some wool.
Attorney: What percentage of a tennis ball is made of rubber?
Witness: I’d say about 85-90%.
See how she slowed down. Asked the right questions. And laid the legal foundation to get the testimony she needed in her case.
When your opponent objects for lack of foundation, DO NOT PANIC!
Just back up and ask the necessary foundational questions.
- Objection Non-Responsive
The non-responsive objection is a common objection used in court when a witness is not responding properly to questions asked under oath. Using this evidentiary objection is crucial when you have a witness who skirts around your question, rambles on and on, or gives testimony that goes beyond the scope of what you asked them.
It's critical to make these kinds of courtroom objections quickly because the witness may inadvertently (or intentionally) say something that is harmful to your case. Thankfully, with a little skill, you can have harmful testimony stricken from the record — you can watch an example in Trial Objections 101.
Sample Non-Responsive Objection
Here is an example of a non-responsive objection:
Attorney: In what year did you meet Bozo?
Witness: We’ve known each other since we were students at clown school. A lot of people don’t know that Bozo was quite the ladies’ man . . . anyway, when he got back from his second tour in Afghanistan, after his divorce, I . . .
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Non-responsive.
Judge: Sustained. Mr. Pennywise, please answer the question.
Witness: Huh? What was the question?
Attorney: How long have you known Bozo?
Witness: 12 years . . . I’ve known him since the very day he won his third-straight hog-wrestling contest, and I’m telling you, no way Bozo is guilty of any of these charges . . .
Self-Represented Party: Objection. Non-responsive.
Non-responsive witnesses can be a source of frustration for self-represented parties as well as seasoned attorneys. There are ways to counteract these kinds of witnesses which we discuss in Trial Objections 101.
That concludes five common objections in court, but there are many more evidentiary objections you'll want to study if you want to be your (or your client's) best advocate in court so you can increase the chances of getting the outcome you desire at trial.
Do You Know the Other 13 Common Objections in Court?
Knowledge of five common objections is a great start.
But if you don't master (or at least begin to master) all of the common courtroom objections, you will likely have difficulty proving your claims or defenses in court.
Without the ability to properly make (and respond to) objections at trial — you may not have the chance to present significant facts and testimony to the judge and jury. Or, the opposing party may destroy your case by taking advantage of your lack of practical objection skills.
If you'd like to learn about 13 additional common courtroom objections that you will likely face at trial (and how to handle them), like: hearsay, improper character evidence, unfair prejudice, leading questions, badgering the witness, and more — check out the video litigation tutorial — Trial Objections 101: Making and Responding to Objections.
It's clear. Concise. Easy to understand. And includes HD video simulations of a self-represented party who stands before the judge making and responding to objections when necessary.
Nothing cements the basics of making solid objections in court like seeing the objection process in action. You'll be growing in confidence as you internalize objection skills and make them your own.
In the tutorial, you'll learn much more than how to make objections in court. The courtroom objections course will provide the confidence you need to identify objectionable testimony and other evidence, the insights to know when to object, and ways to handle the objections of the opposing attorney.
You can read more about Trial Objections 101 here.
We hope you will master common trial objections for your day in court.