The Ten Commandments of Objections

1. Thou shalt know with thy whole heart that jurors don’t like objections. They want the truth and believe the objector is trying to hide the truth from them. So know that there is a cost for every objection. It is only rarely worth that price.

(And no, having an objection sustained does not absolve the objector; it makes it worse because now the jurors really don’t hear whatever it was.)

2. Thou shalt grasp with your whole mind that the evidence code in no way reflects how the human mind works, nor how your jurors learn, remember, think, evaluate, nor decide. Nor have your jurors studied the evidence code, so they neither understand nor appreciate your expertise with it as manifested in your objections. Your jurors do not benefit from your objections; only you do. They know this. Go and know likewise. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a jury to be impressed that you aced evidence class in law school.

3. Thou shalt understand that your objection will wake all jurors and focus their attention on the very thing you would like them to have missed. Know that the evidence code is woefully wrong in pretending that the human brain will forget something just because the Robed One dictates it, and that the lawyers are folly for blithely going along with that fiction. Wise is the lawyer who knows that the proverb “The jury will disregard that last answer” is very like “Hey, you know that last answer to which the one lawyer jumped up and got stressed? That was really interesting there for a second, wasn’t it?” Know the difference between Wite-Out and highlighter, and that while you think objections and instructions to disregard testimony are the former, they are verily the latter.

4. Thou shalt understand that all your turbo-cramming for evidence class and bar review with flash cards and computer programs taught you the evidence rules and sharpened your reflexes to hummingbird-wing reactivity, but did not teach you the judgment not to make objections that will not actually help you. Thou shalt, at long last, understand that the wise lawyer does not always make an objection just because one can. As it is written in the first commandment, jurors will punish you for your objections, so make sure the benefit outweighs the cost. Great surgeons know not only how to cut, but when not to cut; go and know likewise.

5. Thou shalt not object to a leading question on the first instance of one, ever. Thou shalt wait at least several such questions and even then, understand that all the fowl of the air and fish in the sea can easily reformat a leading question into a non-leading one, so most objections to leading questions provide no benefit and just make you look like a wang.

6. Thou shalt not make foundational objections if you know or should know that the foundation is going to be cured within the next several questions or the next few witnesses. Thou shalt repeat: just because the evidence code says something is improper does not mean I have to leap up mindlessly at every infraction just because I can. Look not like a total wang to thy jurors. (If you have a realistic shot at keeping something significant out of the trial altogether, then of course, object—though perhaps a motion in limine would be the right tool for that job.)

7. Thou shalt not object during the opponent’s cross-examination of your witnesses unless absolutely necessary and only if it will provide true benefits beyond vexing thy opponent and thy jurors. Know that nothing will signal fear and nervousness to jurors more than an objection when your clients or experts are testifying. Much better approach: equip your witnesses with the tools and skills of giving good testimony and handling aggressive questioning – not mere “witness prep” that only reviews the depositions to make sure the answers conform to the transcripts.

8. Thou shalt not object that a question is argumentative unless it is truly necessary, not just because reflex tells you to do it. Understand that “argumentative” questions are probably not hurting you. (a) If jurors think your opponent is being a jerk, then they’ll hold it against him or her, so don’t get in the way. (b) If, however, jurors do not think your opponent is being a jerk, then they are likely thinking similar questions to the ones being posed, so they will begrudge you an objection.  Much better to have equipped your witnesses with the skills and tools to handle difficult questions from the other side.

9. Thou shalt not object during voir dire, opening statement, nor closing argument for other than incredibly egregious violations, not technical or minute ones. Thou should recognize the possible strategic benefit that however far you let your opponent goeth, so can you go that far. There isn’t much that looks wangier than making an objection for something you then do yourself.

10. If after obeying the first nine commandments you still must object, thou shalt use a tone that is mild and apologetic to the judge, not angry. Remind thyself: the jurors neither know nor care about the evidence code, so without that context, all they see is an angry and possibly desperate-looking person trying to stop the flow of information to them. Rather, gently speak the words, “Excuse me, Your Honor,” followed by the one or two words that is your objection. From this, two blessings will flow. One is that you avoid the word “objection,” which wakes up jurors and sears into their brains whatever it was you didn’t like. The other is that you will avoid “speaking objections” (making a whole argument rather than just identifying the category of your objection), which invariably sound either self-righteous or whiny or both—neither of which is attractive to jurors.

This entry was posted in Jury Persuasion, Jury Psychology & Dynamics, Trial, Writings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Ten Commandments of Objections

  1. Pingback: Expert Testimony: Some Science & Some Art to Increase Your Value | Juryology: Art & Science of Jury Persuasion

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