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  #1  
Old 09-02-2009, 03:40 AM
SeanArenas SeanArenas is offline
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Objection: Sustained/Overruled

I've been watching Boston Legal, and while I have no illusions that the show displays proper courtroom proceedings as it's a comedy, there is one point I'd like to know about...

Often, someone will Object during a trial. I assume the judge "has" to address the objection, either by saying "sustained" or "overruled." I further assume (not being a lawyer, I don't know) that it's important for him to sustain or overrule it so that
a) the jury knows whether to pay attention to the objectionable statement
b) the court reporter knows whether or not to record the objectionable statement

There may be other reasons, but these seem like enough.

In the show (depending on the episode) a lot of times, objections go unanswered.

Does this happen at all in actual practice? Does it differ from state to state? Or court to court? (District to state supreme to federal, etc.)


So for example...
Prosecution says something, defense says, "I object on (grounds)." Prosecution keeps talking, the judge barely glances at defense counsel.

Is there a reason that both prosecution and judge ignore the objection (or at least don't reply to it)? It happens in many episodes over many seasons.
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  #2  
Old 09-02-2009, 06:31 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeanArenas View Post
In the show (depending on the episode) a lot of times, objections go unanswered.

Does this happen at all in actual practice? Does it differ from state to state? Or court to court? (District to state supreme to federal, etc.)
No, it is extremely rare. One might say nearly impossible and not be accused of hyperbole. It makes great drama, perhaps, but in real life, the court will rule on an objection and the lawyers are expected to conform their actions to the ruling.

As an aside, in most cases, unless the grounds for the objection are blindingly obvious, the lawyer is required to state the grounds for his objection, rather than the TV trick of tossing out a general objection and assuming the judge will telepathically pick up on your reasons.

Hey, perhaps that's why TV judges ignore the objections. We just are never shown the scene beforehand, in chambers, where the judge tells both lawyers, "Now, if you can't be bothered to state grounds for your objections, kids, I'm just going to ignore them as though they were never uttered!"

Last edited by Bricker; 09-02-2009 at 06:32 AM..
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  #3  
Old 09-02-2009, 07:32 AM
Serenata67 Serenata67 is offline
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
...Hey, perhaps that's why TV judges ignore the objections. We just are never shown the scene beforehand, in chambers, where the judge tells both lawyers, "Now, if you can't be bothered to state grounds for your objections, kids, I'm just going to ignore them as though they were never uttered!"
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  #4  
Old 09-02-2009, 07:48 AM
crowmanyclouds crowmanyclouds is offline
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Umm, Bricker might they (the bad writers) be poorly presenting a standing/continuing objection?

And the continued "Objection"s, either ignored or answered with "Noted" (since the objection was already overruled), would be really annoying bad "lawyer" acting to preserve the error in the trial record for appeal?

CMC fnord!
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  #5  
Old 09-02-2009, 08:06 AM
Gyrate Gyrate is offline
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Maybe the writers didn't bother doing any research.

I've long since given up on any sort of verisimilitude in crime/legal dramas; real trials are far too dull to make compelling viewing anyway.
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  #6  
Old 09-02-2009, 08:14 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by crowmanyclouds View Post
Umm, Bricker might they (the bad writers) be poorly presenting a standing/continuing objection?

And the continued "Objection"s, either ignored or answered with "Noted" (since the objection was already overruled), would be really annoying bad "lawyer" acting to preserve the error in the trial record for appeal?
Highly generous. The objections seldom, if ever, appear to be on grounds related to one another. Even if they were, how is the appellate court to determine that this objection was part of an (unseen by the TV viewer) effort to announce a particular assignment of error to a particular ruling?

For this idea to be true, at the very least we might imagine hearing something like, "Same objection, your honor," which would at least alert the reviewing court that the current objection had its roots in an identical, fully-laid-out, specific claim.
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  #7  
Old 09-02-2009, 09:41 AM
Ravenman Ravenman is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
As an aside, in most cases, unless the grounds for the objection are blindingly obvious, the lawyer is required to state the grounds for his objection, rather than the TV trick of tossing out a general objection and assuming the judge will telepathically pick up on your reasons.
That's interesting. When I was a juror on a murder trial in DC a few years ago, neither attorney once explained the reason for an objection. It was curious to me because there were several times in which there was an objection, the judge would lean back in his chair, chew on a pencil in deep contemplation, and then respond to the objection. I recall thinking at the time that the judge was trying to divine the reason for the objection, and then whether it was valid.
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  #8  
Old 09-02-2009, 10:44 AM
Cliffy Cliffy is offline
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The first trial I ever saw, the judge didn't verbally rule on most of the objections, but that doesn't mean he didn't rule on them. A glare from the bench can be enough to let the lawyers know how to conform their conduct. However, this is poor procedure because it doesn't show up in the record.

As to the OP's assumptions, the court reporter should transcribe everything said in the courtroom, even if it's later ruled inadmissable. While sustained objections can and do force the questioning lawyer to change his tactics or the testifying witness to shut up about something he isn't allowed to talk about, just as important is what happens to objections on appeal.

The rule is that, since trials are costly, they take a long time, and they're a big imposition on witnesses, that each side has an obligation to try to correct errors as they happen. Instead of letting an error fester, and then on appeal bringing it up and demanding your client get a new trial. So if you thing there's improper testimony or questioning, you MUST object contemporaneously. If you do, the trial judge has the immediate ability to consider and rule on the objection and, if you're right, that nips the problem in the bud. If the objection is overruled, then it's still plain in the record what you thought was in error, and so it can be considered on appeal. If you don't object immediately, you will almost never be permitted to raise that error on appeal.

--Cliffy
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  #9  
Old 09-02-2009, 10:56 AM
TheFifthYear TheFifthYear is offline
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Originally Posted by Ravenman View Post
That's interesting. When I was a juror on a murder trial in DC a few years ago, neither attorney once explained the reason for an objection. It was curious to me because there were several times in which there was an objection, the judge would lean back in his chair, chew on a pencil in deep contemplation, and then respond to the objection. I recall thinking at the time that the judge was trying to divine the reason for the objection, and then whether it was valid.
Hey, if you've got a judge that will do that, sometimes it's better not to state your reasoning. The judge may think of a reason the question is objectionable that you didn't think of.
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  #10  
Old 09-02-2009, 10:56 AM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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Our rules around here are that if the objecting attorney doesn't get a ruling on the record, he generally loses his right to complain of the error on appeal. If the judge doesn't make a ruling, the attorney has to interrupt the proceedings and request a ruling on his objection for the record. If the judge doesn't make an explicit ruling after a request or two ("I said move on, counselor!") the courts of appeal will rule that the judge's refusal to rule was an overruling of the objection, but the attorney has to make the requests. The best bet is to be a tad apologetic but insistant that you really need the ruling.
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  #11  
Old 09-02-2009, 12:31 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeanArenas View Post
b) the court reporter knows whether or not to record the objectionable statement
As Cliffy said, the court reporter writes it anyway.

The job of a court reporter is to produce a verbatim transcript of everything that's said unless the judge specifically says it's off the record.
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  #12  
Old 09-02-2009, 02:33 PM
racer72 racer72 is online now
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I served on a jury about 3 years ago, both attorneys objected to a number of things. If the judge did not agree with the objection, he would just tell the other attorney to continue. If he agreed with the objection, us jurors were instructed as to what to ignore. On at least 4 occasions, the judge and attorneys would take a short recess in the hallway behind the courtroom and discuss the objection. The judge would come back and give his decision. The judge explained all this is the pre-trial instructions and pointed out it would not be like the stuff we see on TV.
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  #13  
Old 09-02-2009, 03:25 PM
ivn1188 ivn1188 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
As an aside, in most cases, unless the grounds for the objection are blindingly obvious, the lawyer is required to state the grounds for his objection, rather than the TV trick of tossing out a general objection and assuming the judge will telepathically pick up on your reasons.
The rules say the lawyer needs to state grounds for an objection. However, trial lawyers rarely state grounds for two reasons:

1) Most objections that arise in court are obvious ones; the difficult objections get worked out in pretrial conferences, so you're usually limited to a small subset (like hearsay or improper phrasing).

2) If you object and don't state the grounds, the judge will do one of two things: she will either sustain it on grounds that she finds obvious, or she will ask for grounds if she doesn't see anything objectionable. This gives you two bites at the apple -- if you object on the wrong grounds, the judge is (mostly) obliged to rule against you even though she knows it is objectionable. The judge will rarely/never just overrule your objection without asking your grounds, as you might have something she missed (unless it's an ongoing renewal).

Most of the time when grounds are given, they are merely renewing their objection for the record to give them grounds for appeal later.

Last edited by ivn1188; 09-02-2009 at 03:27 PM..
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  #14  
Old 09-02-2009, 03:43 PM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is online now
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Will the judge in real life pick up on something that the defense counsel should have objected to and give him a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder? (I've seen judges do this on TV now and again.) Or isn't that the judge's job?

And if defense counsels do miss things is that grounds for the client to appeal afterwards?
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  #15  
Old 09-02-2009, 04:06 PM
pravnik pravnik is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
Will the judge in real life pick up on something that the defense counsel should have objected to and give him a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder? (I've seen judges do this on TV now and again.) Or isn't that the judge's job?
Generally, no. There are some actions that a judge can take sua sponte in trial, but he or she won't usually take any action on something one or the other parties should be objecting to. Occasionally a judge will be looking imploringly to an attorney to please make a relevance objection to irrelevant testimony, and gratefully sustain it when they do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aldiboronti
And if defense counsels do miss things is that grounds for the client to appeal afterwards?
Only if failure to object amounts to ineffective assitance, a pretty high standard. If the attorney can articulate a valid trial strategy for not having objected, or if the defendant can't show that the outcome would have been different, the ineffective assistance claim will fail.
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  #16  
Old 09-02-2009, 04:16 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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As a side note, if you just ignore the judge and keep going on (particular with obvious intent to influence the jury with material you're not supposed to talk about), you can get into big trouble. In the original L&O, McCoy is punished at least once for this behavior (case tossed out, IIRC). In the newer CO, I was rather disgusted when the judge let Vincent "One-Note" Don'Ofrio get away with this in spades. Then the trial continued. Perhaps not unrealistically, they put the defendant away with very little evidence and without any confirmation I can recall he did the crime.
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  #17  
Old 09-02-2009, 04:22 PM
Yogurt Yogurt is offline
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Originally Posted by Ravenman View Post
That's interesting. When I was a juror on a murder trial in DC a few years ago, neither attorney once explained the reason for an objection.
Was it in D.C. proper or a Md. suburb?

In Md the applicable rule would be 5-103(a)(1)

Quote:
Originally Posted by 5-103(a)(1)

(a) Effect of erroneous ruling.- Error may not be predicated upon a ruling that admits or excludes evidence unless the party is prejudiced by the ruling, and

(1) Objection.- In case the ruling is one admitting evidence, a timely objection or motion to strike appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection, if the specific ground was requested by the court or required by rule;
You do have to state specific Constitutional or Declaration of Right's grounds in Md however, often leading to, "I object your honor, as this is against the rule of evidence and the Defendant's Due Process, 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment Rights."
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  #18  
Old 09-02-2009, 04:48 PM
Gary "Wombat" Robson Gary "Wombat" Robson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
Will the judge in real life pick up on something that the defense counsel should have objected to and give him a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder? (I've seen judges do this on TV now and again.) Or isn't that the judge's job?
That smacks of favoritism. The judge is supposed to be impartial, and not help either side.
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  #19  
Old 09-02-2009, 05:03 PM
Telemark Telemark is offline
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Originally Posted by smiling bandit View Post
In the newer CO, I was rather disgusted when the judge let Vincent "One-Note" Don'Ofrio get away with this in spades. Then the trial continued.
He plays a cop, not a DA. He may have been testifying but he shouldn't have been arguing before the court, should he?
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Old 09-02-2009, 05:55 PM
TheFifthYear TheFifthYear is offline
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That smacks of favoritism. The judge is supposed to be impartial, and not help either side.
True, but I've seen judges that just can't help themselves.
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  #21  
Old 09-02-2009, 06:41 PM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by ivn1188 View Post
The rules say the lawyer needs to state grounds for an objection. However, trial lawyers rarely state grounds for two reasons:

1) Most objections that arise in court are obvious ones; the difficult objections get worked out in pretrial conferences, so you're usually limited to a small subset (like hearsay or improper phrasing).
Not in my experience; I readily concede that civil practice may iron out contentious issues ahead of time, but even an adverse in limine ruling doesn't absolve you from the requirement to preserve your record during the trial. And in criminal practice, for misdemeanor and and small felony work... "pre-trial conference?" What's that?
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Old 09-02-2009, 07:16 PM
smiling bandit smiling bandit is offline
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
He plays a cop, not a DA. He may have been testifying but he shouldn't have been arguing before the court, should he?
Yes, he plays a cop, but that's none too relevant. Pissing off the judge (and it was blatantly obvious that he was simply ignoring the judge and knowingly attempting to taint the trial) is horrendously stupid. It means that in the future, other judges will refuse him and possibly the prosecutor any latitude. It means he would possibly be jailed for Contempt of Court. It would not reflect well on the police. It would probably have seriously damaged his career. The trial would have a good chance of being restarted.

Basically, it was a truly stupid move. In real life, the prosecutor would almost certainly have cut him off in some way, because a witness like that can destroy him with repercussions.
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  #23  
Old 09-02-2009, 08:10 PM
Roadfood Roadfood is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ivn1188 View Post
The rules say the lawyer needs to state grounds for an objection. However, trial lawyers rarely state grounds for two reasons:

1) Most objections that arise in court are obvious ones; the difficult objections get worked out in pretrial conferences, so you're usually limited to a small subset (like hearsay or improper phrasing).
Am I the only one who remembers the televised OJ trial? I remember vividly hearing both Darden and Clark at various times say simply "Objection" with no specifics, and Ito saying "Sustained" with no further direction to the defense side, and then Cochran rephrasing the question or going on to some other line of questioning. It was very clear that all parties (except maybe the witness) knew exactly what was being objected to and why, and exactly what Ito's ruling meant, without anyone having to explicitly state anything.
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  #24  
Old 09-03-2009, 08:12 AM
Bricker Bricker is offline
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Originally Posted by smiling bandit View Post
Yes, he plays a cop, but that's none too relevant. Pissing off the judge (and it was blatantly obvious that he was simply ignoring the judge and knowingly attempting to taint the trial) is horrendously stupid. It means that in the future, other judges will refuse him and possibly the prosecutor any latitude. It means he would possibly be jailed for Contempt of Court. It would not reflect well on the police. It would probably have seriously damaged his career. The trial would have a good chance of being restarted.

Basically, it was a truly stupid move. In real life, the prosecutor would almost certainly have cut him off in some way, because a witness like that can destroy him with repercussions.
As a possibly interesting aside: when this happens (a government witness deliberately offering inadmissible testimony in order to prejudice the accused) it's known as an evidentiary harpoon.
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  #25  
Old 09-03-2009, 03:42 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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I've seen far too many TV shows and movies where counsel keeps asking questions, getting in the witness's face, even as opposing counsel pounds the table and shouts, "Objection! OBJECTION!" Of course the judge doesn't rule and of course the witness still answers, giving the persistent lawyer just the bit of evidence he needs to win, and giving the viewer a spine-tingling bit of courtroom excitement. Doesn't happen in real life, or shouldn't.

IME most judges, especially if it's a jury trial, require the lawyers to state no reason for an objection, to avoid tainting the jury, or will permit at most a very brief explanation of the basis for the objection ("Objection, hearsay," "Objection, calls for speculation," etc.) You go to sidebar if an objection needs to be discussed at length. In every court in which I've appeared, the judge will sustain an objection even it's for a different reason than that stated by the objecting lawyer. That's my usual approach, too, although when I'm presiding over mock trials I'll overrule "wrong" objections to better teach the law students.

I've told this story before on the Dope: I was once a prosecutor in a bench trial, a felonious assault case. Defense counsel was asking a lot of questions of my medical expert witness that were close to the line of being objectionable, but I didn't think my case was being hurt, and I figured the judge was smart enough to sort things out, so I didn't object. Eventually, though, the other lawyer asked a question which I thought was flat-out objectionable, so I spoke up. The judge looked at me over her glasses and said dryly, "Nice to hear from you, Elendil's Heir. Sustained!" Obviously she thought I should've objected sooner, but she wasn't going to do my job for me.

On the other hand, I once knew an ogre of a judge who would bark "Sustained!" out of the blue, even if no objection was made by opposing counsel, sustaining her own objections. Took some getting used to. Then I knew another judge who asked quite a few questions of his own in a bench trial, finally causing defense counsel to hesitantly object. The judge thought about it, grinned, realized he'd gotten a little carried away, and sustained the objection to his own question!

Last edited by Elendil's Heir; 09-03-2009 at 03:45 PM..
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  #26  
Old 09-03-2009, 09:54 PM
Spavined Gelding Spavined Gelding is offline
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Regarding the need to specify the grounds of an evidentiary objection, I swear the following is as close to true as not to make any difference:

DA: (Question which if answered will blow the case out of the water, tie it up in a red ribbon with a big puffy bow and sent the defendant off to the State Pen for up to. but not more than, twenty-five years)

Mr. Gelding: Objection , your honor.

The Court: What is the basis of the objection?

Mr. Gelding: Well, err, ah its prejudicial to my client, sir.

The Court: These entire proceedings are prejudicial to your client. Overruled.

It is in this way that young lawyers learn their trade.
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  #27  
Old 09-04-2009, 09:20 AM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is offline
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From the Jim Carrey movie Liar Liar:

Fletcher: Your honor, I object!
Judge: Why?
Fletcher: Because it's devastating to my case!
Judge: Overruled.
Fletcher: Good call!
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