Different Types Of Objections In Texas Criminal Trials And How They Can Help Your Defense
During a criminal trial or hearing, it is common to hear attorneys interrupt one another with various objections during the proceeding. Hearsay! Relevance! Speculation! These are terms you’re probably familiar with, even from watching courtroom dramas on TV. In a criminal trial, these are important techniques to clear up what testimony should or shouldn’t be allowed. When a person is charged with a crime and a guilty verdict could mean jail time, proper objections can mean the difference between a conviction and freedom for the defendant.
What is an Objection?
A legal objection is a party’s brief argument that a certain piece of testimony or evidence is improper under the rules of evidence, and should not be allowed. The Texas Rules of Evidence control what can and can’t be used at trial. This is a complex but critical set of rules designed to ensure a fair trial for everybody involved. For parties to the case and jurors, learning to follow the various rules and objections can be especially challenging (even attorneys and judges can find this to be a challenge at times).
Common Objections in Criminal Court Proceedings
Whether a trial is underway or a preliminary hearing is taking place, attorneys for both sides will present evidence and witness testimony – some of which warrants objections from the other side. These can include:
- Hearsay. Hearsay is one of the more frequent objections because it refers to second-hand statements made out of court by a person who is not in court to testify. If a witness is trying to provide this information to prove the truth of what was said at the time, this testimony is usually inadmissible. This is mainly because a defendant does not have the opportunity to cross examine the person who made the alleged statement.
The Sixth Amendment’s “Confrontation Clause” gives criminal defendants an important right to cross-examine somebody who made a damaging statement in court. If a witness says “Bill told me he saw the defendant running away from the bank after the robbery”, this is a hearsay statement.
- Relevance. This relates to questions or statements that don’t directly pertain to the case at trial. Relevance objections are especially crucial in criminal cases because prosecutors will often try to sneak in facts or statements that can paint a damaging picture of the defendant, or allow the jury to think they are guilty because of facts from a past situation.
- Non-Responsive. This objection is used when a witness starts talking about something other than what the attorney asked. This is a common objection because it is human nature for witnesses to drift into other information while trying to formulate a response. If the attorney asks what time the witness went to the bank, and the witness instead starts talking about how friendly the tellers seemed that day, this would be non-responsive to the question that was asked. Objections to responsiveness are used to keep the testimony on track and also to keep out other information that might unfairly prejudice the jury.
- Speculation. Speculation occurs when an attorney asks a witness to estimate, guess, or make some kind of assumption about a fact at issue in the case. If a prosecutor asks a witness just how fast the defendant drove away from the scene, or how heavy the bag was that the defendant carried, that would call for a speculative response.
- Leading the Witness. Leading questions are those that try to put the answer in the witness’s mouth. These are usually framed in a suggestive way that leads the witness to only say “Yes” or “No” in response. Some of these questions are acceptable, as ways to get simple information across. When they are framed using details of a case to obtain a certain response, the other attorney can object. Saying, “You saw the defendant run away from the scene because they took the money, right?” is a leading question.
The Importance of Having a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney
These and other objections can make or break a criminal case. For the defendant, that can mean the difference between a conviction or acquittal. At the pre-trial stages, proper objections during hearings can help frame and narrow down the issues – potentially leading to reduced charges, plea agreements, or even dismissals. If the defendant’s attorney does not stay on their toes and allows prejudicial testimony to influence a case, the consequences can be serious.
At Keith B. French Law, our Pearland criminal lawyers have the experience and expertise to handle all aspects of trial practice, including the use of objections. If you have been charged with any type of crime, contact us today for help.