17 Fundamental Mock Trial Objections and How to Make Them
Is your team super excited about standing up and saying “Objection!” in a courtroom…but not really sure when they can do that? Or, are they dreading objections and terrified of getting one from opposing counsel?
I’m going to walk you through the kinds of objection your team can make, how to make and defend them, and what to do after the judge rules on an objection.
I. Available Objections Are Listed in the Rules of Evidence
Your mock trial case packet should include Rules of Evidence. Most of these rules are likely based on the same ones that apply in courts in your state.
Your witnesses’ testimony must follow the Rules of Evidence. If it doesn’t, opposing counsel can object, and the testimony is not admitted in evidence, which means that the judge can’t consider it when deciding the case.
The questions your team lawyers ask the witnesses must also follow the Rules of Evidence. If they don’t, and if opposing counsel objects, the witness doesn’t have to answer the question.
The objections discussed here are based on the Simplified Rules of Evidence applicable in California high school mock trial (Constitutional Rights Foundation). Although they’re likely very similar to the ones in your case packet, be sure to check for any differences.
There are two broad categories of mock trial objections: (1) objections to the form of the question and (2) objections to testimony.
A. Objections to the Form of Questions
Questions have to be asked in a proper form or way. The following 6 objections can be made to the way a question is asked.
1. Vague and Ambiguous
An attorney can object to a question if it cannot be understood.
Often, questions are vague because they contain an unclear reference. For example, a question might use a pronoun, such as “he”, “she”, “it.”
Here’s an example: Did you see what happened?
In this example, it’s unclear what the attorney means by “what happened” because there’s no context given. A better question would be, “Did you see what happened on Main Street on the evening of July 31?”
- “Objection. The question is vague and ambiguous.”
On direct examination, attorneys cannot ask a question that suggests the answer. (In contrast, during cross examination, all questions should be leading questions.)
Most leading questions are really statements, followed by a question that asks the witness to confirm the statement. Look out for questions that contain phrases like “isn’t it true”, “correct”, or “did/didn’t you”.
For example: Ms. Capulet, you met Mr. Montague at the masquerade ball, didn’t you?
The way this question is phrased, suggests that the correct answer is “yes.” When an attorney is examining their own witness, they cannot suggest to them the answer to the question.
- “Objection. “
- “Objection; counsel is leading the witness.”
Attorneys must ask one question at a time. A compound question is really two or more questions.
An example of a compound question is: Officer O’Reilly, how did Mr. Davis respond and react when you caught him with the stolen laptop in his backpack?
This is really two questions: (1) How did Davis respond? and (2) How did Davis react?
Pay careful attention to questions that have an “and” or an “or” in them. They may be compound.
- “Objection. The question is compound.”
Attorney questions are supposed to be questions. Attorneys can’t argue their case during their examinations of witnesses.
An example of an argumentative question is: Wasn’t it careless to leave such dangerous item in such a public, easily accessible location?
The example suggests that someone was careless because they left something dangerous laying around. This is an idea the attorney wants the judge to agree with, so it’s an argument, not a question to a witness.
To spot an argumentative question, listen for adjectives. In the example, you have “careless”, “dangerous, “public,” and “easily accessible.” These adjectives characterize people and things. Here, someone is being called “careless” and some item “dangerous”.
Judges might be more lenient about allowing lawyers to ask the defendant argumentative questions. They might also allow argumentative questions to expert witnesses or law enforcement officers. These witnesses testify in court frequently, so judges sometimes expect them to be able to stand up for themselves when asked argumentative questions.
- “Objection. The question is argumentative.”
5. Asked and Answered
Attorneys can ask a witness a question only once. If an attorney has asked a question and the witness gave an answer, the attorney cannot ask it again.
It doesn’t matter if the attorney loved the witness’s answer. They can’t ask it again to emphasize the point. It also doesn’t matter if the attorney hated the witness’s answer. They can’t ask the same question again and hope for a better response.
- “Objection. Asked and answered.”
6. Outside Scope of Cross Examination
This is an objection only made during redirect examination, which is limited to issues raised during the cross examination.
A redirect examination question is objectionable when it is not related to an issue raised during the cross examination.
- “Objection. This matter is beyond the scope of cross examination.”
B. Objections to Testimony
With the following 11 mock trial objections, attorneys can object to improper testimony that a witness gives. These objections can also be used if opposing counsel’s question asks the witness to give improper testimony.
7. Non-Responsive Witness
This objection can be made when the witness does not provide an answer to their question.
- “Objection, Your Honor. The witness’s testimony is non-responsive.”
Evidence must be relevant to be admitted. Witnesses can only testify to relevant matters.
There is a low threshold for relevance. Relevant evidence is evidence that has an impact on an important fact in the case. If evidence shows that an important fact is more (or less) likely to be true, then the evidence is relevant.
Offer of Proof
If opposing counsel makes a relevance objection to evidence your attorney wants to introduce, your attorney should ask the judge, “Your Honor, may I make an offer of proof?” This is courtroom-speak for “Let me explain why this is relevant.” Assuming the judge allows it, your attorney would then explain what they expect the witness to say and how it is relevant (how it relates to a fact that’s important for the judge’s verdict).
- “Objection; relevance.”
- “Objection. The witness is testifying to irrelevant matter.”
9. More Prejudicial Than Probative
An attorney can object to evidence if it is substantially more prejudicial than probative. For evidence to meet this standard, the objecting attorney must show that the evidence is so harmful that the harm substantially outweighs any relevance the evidence has.
It’s not enough that an attorney doesn’t like it or that it’s bad for their case. There must be a substantial danger that the evidence will lead to undue prejudice, confusion of the issues, a waste of time, or misleading the judge.
It’s a pretty high standard to meet because generally, if evidence is relevant, it should be admitted so that the judge can be fully informed when deciding the defendant’s guilt. So in order for relevant evidence to be excluded, it needs to be really harmful. Here’s a visual to illustrate this point:
- “Objection. The question seeks testimony that is substantially more prejudicial than probative.”
- “Objection. This evidence’s probative value is substantially outweighed by its risk of undue prejudice.”
A narrative is when the witness talks non-stop, without interruption. The witness must answer the attorney’s question and only the attorney’s question. They can’t just get on the stand and recite their witness statement.
For example, a prosecutor asking the victim to “describe what happened” on the day of the crime, calls for a narrative. The victim probably can’t discuss all of the events that occurred on the day they were victimized, without talking uninterrupted for a long time.
- “Objection. Calls for a narrative.” (If you’re objecting to the question.)
- “Objection. The witness has lapsed into a narrative.”
A witness needs to have testified to enough background facts to show they are able to provide the testimony they are giving.
Consider this example:
Q: Good evening, Ms. Frazer. Please introduce yourself to the Court.
A: My name is Kai Frazer. I transferred to Beachside High School last year, and I’m a senior this year.
Q: Do you know Shay Miller?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: How do you know her?
A: She goes to Beachside too, and we became friends on my first day at this school.
Q: How would you describe Ms. Miller’s relationship with her grandparents?
Counsel might object to this question as lacking foundation because Kai has not testified that she knows anything about Shay relationship with her grandparents, or anything about Shay’s family life.
- “Objection. Lacks foundation.”
- “Objection. The question lacks foundation.”
- “Objection. There’s no foundation for this testimony.”
12. Personal Knowledge / Speculation
A witness must have personal knowledge of the things they testify to. They can’t speculate, and attorneys can’t ask them to.
Usually, witnesses speculate when they testify about another person’s motivation or thoughts. For example, they might testify about: (1) why another person did/said something; (2) how another person felt; and (3) what another person thought.
- “Objection. The question calls for speculation.”
- “Objection. The witness lacks personal knowledge to provide this testimony.”
13. Unfair Extrapolation / Creation of Material Fact
This is an objection that exists only in the mock trial world. The reason for this is that in mock trial, all of the allowable facts and evidence are contained in the case packet. And of course, that’s not how it works in a real-life trial.
Check your Rules of Evidence to confirm what your witness can testify to. For example, in California high school mock trial, witnesses can only testify to their “official record”, which consists of: (1) the witness’s statement; (2) the Fact Situation; and (3) any exhibits relevant to the witness’s testimony.
Mock trial witnesses cannot testify to material facts that are not in the case packet. A fact is material if it makes a difference on the outcome of the case.
It is critical for attorneys to know their witnesses’ statements. It’s the only way to catch testimony that is outside of the allowable facts.
It is also important to know the difference between a material fact and a nonmaterial fact. Remember, this mock trial objection applies only when the witness testifies to a material fact that’s not in the case packet.
Example Fact Scenario: Evil Witch is on trial for giving Snow White a poisoned apple on the afternoon of December 1. The evidence is that on the morning of the crime, Ms. Witch consulted with her magic mirror, then spent about half an hour in the forest.
During her direct examination, she testifies as follows:
Q: Ms. Witch, what did you do the morning of December 1?
A: I woke up, spoke with my magic mirror, and then wandered in the forest for about a half-hour.
Q: Did you do anything in particular while you were in the forest?
A: I am training for a 5K race, so I jogged about three miles.
There’s no unfair extrapolation here. Whether Ms. Witch is training for a 5K or whether she jogged for about three miles during her half-hour jaunt into the forest, doesn’t make it more or less likely that she gave Snow White the poisoned apple.
Now, consider these questions during Ms. Witch’s cross examination:
Q: Ms. Witch, isn’t it true that you went for a three-mile jog in the forest on the morning of December 1?
A: Yes, it is.
Q: You were hungry after that jog, weren’t you?
A: Yes, I suppose I was.
Q: You were so hungry, in fact, that you went and picked some apples, isn’t that right?
It still doesn’t matter whether Ms. Witch went for a three-mile jog, and it really doesn’t matter that she might have been hungry after it. But, whether she picked apples is important. If she had apples on December 1, the chances that she gave a poisoned apple to Snow White are greater than they would be without evidence that she had apples in her possession the morning Ms. White was poisoned.
- “Objection. The question calls for an unfair extrapolation.”
- “Objection. The witness has testified to an unfair extrapolation.”
14. Improper Lay Witness Opinion
Generally, lay witnesses (non-expert witnesses) can only testify about things they have personal knowledge about.
Lay witnesses can provide some opinions, but only opinions that any regular person could provide. A witness can give an opinion if it is based on things they observe with their senses, AND if the opinion is relevant to understanding the witness’s testimony.
Here’s an example of a lay witness opinion:
Q: Mr. Dwarf, can you describe the condition in which you found Ms. White when you returned to the cottage?
A: She was lying still and did not respond when I shook her arm and yelled out her name. She appeared to be dead.
This is a proper lay witness opinion. A lay person can tell the difference between someone who looks dead and someone who looks alive. This opinion is also based on the witness’s observations – Ms. White lying still and her lack of a response to stimuli. Also, the opinion is relevant to understanding Mr. Dwarf’s testimony. His opinion that Ms. White was dead helps explain what he did after finding Ms. White in this condition.
If a lay witness tries to offer testimony that requires special knowledge, training, etc., the testimony is objectionable.
Let’s continue the example above:
Q: Mr. Dwarf, what was the cause of Ms. White’s death?
A: She had been poisoned by an apple.
This is objectionable. Determining a cause of death requires special training in medicine or professional experience performing autopsies. There’s no evidence Mr. Dwarf has that special training or experience. Mr. Dwarf can’t determine, based on what he saw and heard, that Ms. White’s death was caused by a poisoned apple and not by say, a toxic plant in the forest or carbon monoxide poisoning in the cottage.
- “Objection. Calls for improper lay witness opinion.”
- “Objection. The witness has provided an improper opinion.”
15. Improper Expert Opinion
Unlike lay witnesses, expert witnesses have special knowledge, education, training, experience, or skill. They can testify to their opinions about matters even if they don’t have personal knowledge of them.
Expert opinion is admissible if it is based on the expert’s special skill, experience, etc., AND if the opinion would assist the judge in resolving an issue relevant to the case. There’s one limitation on this, though: An expert witness may not express an opinion on whether the defendant had the mental state required for the criminal offense at issue.
Also, expert witnesses have to be qualified to give an expert opinion. This means that if you’re offering an expert opinion, you must show that the witness has special skill, knowledge, etc. that is helpful to the judge in making a decision on the case. In California mock trial, the parties stipulate that each expert witness is a qualified expert witness, so expert qualification is not an issue.
Here’s an example:
Q: Please introduce yourself to the Court.
A: I’m Doctor Rider. I’ve lived near the forest for 25 years, and I go horseback riding through the woods every morning. I found Snow White’s body during my ride one morning last year.
Q: Since you go by “Doctor,” is it true that you are a licensed medical doctor?
A: Oh, no. I meet a lot of people on my rides through the forest, and people started coming to talk to me when they’re upset. I’ve always offered them a cup of hot tea. About 20 years ago, I started experimenting with the herbs in the forest and making different kinds of teas. I logged all of my experiments and found that different herbal blends help people in different ways.
Q: Doctor Rider, based on your expertise, what was the cause of Snow White’s death?
A: In my opinion, it was the poisoned apple she ate.
Doctor Rider may be an expert in herbal teas, but not in medical examinations or performing autopsies. He has no education, training, or experience in identifying causes of death. Because the opinion he expressed (eating a poisoned apple caused death) has nothing to do with his claimed area of expertise (herbal teas), the opinion is improper and lacking in foundation.
- “Objection. Improper opinion.”
- “Objection. There is no foundation for the witness’s opinion.”
16. Character Evidence
Character evidence is evidence of someone’s personal trait (honesty, selfishness, violence). It comes in three forms:
- Opinion evidence: This is when a testifying witness gives their opinion about someone else. Example: “I think Reggie is a liar.”
- Reputation evidence: The witness on the stand testifies to someone’s reputation. Example “Everyone knows Reggie is a liar.”
- Evidence of prior conduct: The witness testifies about an action someone previously took. Example: “Reggie spread a false rumor about me when we were in the eighth grade.”
Character evidence cannot be used to prove that the person acted “in accordance” with that character trait on a particular occasion.
Diane (defendant) is being prosecuted for attempted murder. The prosecution alleges that Diane repeatedly pushed and shoved Vicky (victim), until Vicky fell down a flight of stairs. Diane’s defense is that Vicky was actually pushed by Kelly, who was wearing a jacket she had borrowed from Diane. Diane offers evidence that Kelly got in a fight last year.
This is improper. Diane cannot use Kelly’s prior act of violence (the fight last year) to show that Kelly committed the act of violence now at issue (pushing Vicky).
There are three exceptions to the rule against using character evidence.
- Defendant’s Character: The defendant can offer evidence of his own good character to show that he acted in accordance with that good character on a specific occasion.
- For example, Diane can introduce evidence that last semester, instead of getting in a fight with someone who had provoked her, she talked to the person and reached a peaceful resolution.
- Victim’s Character: The defense can offer evidence of the victim’s character to prove that the victim acted in accordance with that character trait on a particular occasion.
- Witness’s Character: Either the prosecution or defense can introduce evidence of a witness’s dishonesty. If this happens, the opposing party can then offer evidence of that witness’s honesty.
- “Objection. The question calls for inadmissible character evidence.”
- “Objection. The witness has provided improper character testimony.”
The hearsay rule is: Evidence of out-of-court statements cannot be offered for the truth of the matter….unless an exception applies.
There are two steps to a hearsay analysis.
First: Determine whether there is a hearsay statement to begin with.
Hearsay is a statement made out of court, offered for the truth of the matter.
The first part of this – a statement made out of court – is pretty straightforward. This means anything that someone said or wrote outside of the courtroom. The reason for the hearsay rule is to make sure that evidence is reliable. If someone said or wrote something outside of the courtroom, the statement is not as credible as it would be if they were in court, under oath and subject to cross examination.
The trickier, and often overlooked, part of the hearsay rule is that the out-of-court statement being must used in court to prove the matter asserted. This means that the out of court statement is being used to prove the statement itself.
Second: If there is a hearsay statement, consider whether there is an applicable hearsay exception.
There are probably about a dozen hearsay exceptions in your Rules of Evidence. Perhaps the most commonly used exception is an admission by a party-opponent. The prosecution can rely on this exception to offer evidence of anything the defendant said out of court.
- “Objection. Calls for hearsay.”
- “Objection. The witness has testified to hearsay.”
II. How To Make and Argue a Mock Trial Objection
1. Stand Up Before Making a Objection.
Attorneys shouldn’t hover over their chair while they decide whether they are going to object or not. They should decide whether to object, and if they decide to object, get on your feet. And they shouldn’t hesitate to interrupt opposing counsel’s question or the witness’s testimony.
2. Say “Objection” and Identify the Objection.
Once they’re on your feet, an attorney should simply say “Objection”, followed by the ground for your objection. For example, “Objection. Leading.” That’s all an attorney need to say, unless the judge invites them to argue.
3. Give a Short, Clear Argument for the Objection, if the Judge Indicates it’s OK to Do So.
Sometimes, the judge will ask an attorney to explain their objection or look at the attorney as if they expect you to say something. If this happens, an attorney should go ahead and explain why the judge should sustain or overrule the objection.
Provide a succinct, 1- or 2-sentence argument.
4. Communicate in a Professional Manner.
There are two phrases that come in handy when arguing mock trial objections:
- May I be heard, Your Honor?”: This is how attorneys tell the judge they have something to say and don’t want the judge to rule on the objection just yet.
- “Submitted.”: An attorney says this when they’ve said everything they need to say, and they are ready for the judge to make a decision on the objection.
III. The Judge’s Ruling on the Objection and How to Respond to It
After an objection is made and after the attorneys have had a chance to argue (if the judge allows it), the judge will rule on the objection. The judge will either sustain the objection or overrule it.
Sustained vs. Overruled
When the judge sustains an objection, this means that the judge agrees with the objection. If the objection is to a question, the witness cannot answer the question. The questioning attorney must then ask another question (or conclude their examination of the witness).
If the objection is to an answer the witness gives on the stand, the witness cannot say any more on the objectionable issue. The attorney who made the objection should move to strike the testimony. (More on that below.)
When a judge overrules an objection, it means that the attorney making the objection loses. The evidence at issue can be admitted.
If the objection was made to a question, the witness can answer the question. If the objection was made to testimony, the witness can continue testifying.
What To Do After the Judge Sustains Your Team’s Objection
If your team objected to opposing counsel’s question, and the judge sustains the objection, the witness cannot answer the question. Opposing counsel has to ask another question.
Your Team Should Move to Strike if the Judge Sustains its Objection to Testimony
If your team objected to testimony that a witness gave, and the judge sustained the objection, your team should move to strike the witness’s improper testimony.
This means your team asks the judge to exclude the improper testimony from evidence. When the judge strikes improper testimony from the record, they don’t consider it when deciding the verdict. The stricken testimony also can’t be used by either party. Your team should just pretend the witness never said whatever was stricken, and be sure not to use it in your closing argument.
What To Do If the Judge Overrules Your Team’s Objection
If the judge overrules your team’s objection, the attorney who made the objection simply sits back down and moves on. They will be graceful about this. They won’t roll your eyes or throw up their hands in frustration.
I’ve seen some mock trial attorneys say “Thank you, Your Honor”, as if they are thanking the judge for overruling their objection. This strikes me as weird and insincere. It also makes me doubt for a minute that the attorney understands that “overruled” means that they lost.
If the judge listened very patiently to an argument your team made, a response such as “understood” or “yes, Your Honor” might be appropriate. But, otherwise, there’s really no need to say anything after a judge rules on an objection.
Attorneys score points by understanding the rules of evidence and making and arguing mock trial objections convincingly. There really is no better way to master objections than to keep practicing.
I’ve prepared a visual guide to help you keep in mind the main points we’ve discussed here. Consider printing it out and keeping it on counsel table as a reference during your scrimmages and competition rounds.