Advice for Other Lawyers: Object When Appropriate

Let’s face it, as trial lawyers, we all exercise some discretion as to when to object.  Some of you may be surprised the consequences when you fail to object.

I guess that’s why we all have that fallback like line like, “I knew that was not admissible but you know juries don’t like to hear lawyers objecting all the time.”  The fact of the matter is, juries don’t like it when lawyers are obstructionists and may feel like a lawyer is hiding something when a lawyer objects repeatedly.

On the other hand, as lawyers, we have a duty to protect the record and to persuade the jury with reliable evidence.


Rule 103 governs when and how to object. Objections must be stated with a specific ground or basis as to why the evidence isn’t admissible. Boilerplate objections do not preserve issues on appeal. Similarly, when an objection is specific, all other grounds that were not mentioned are waived.

And of course, it’s the lawyer’s duty to raise the objection. Pennsylvania rules differ slightly from federal rules in this regard where the federal rules permit the court to grant relief for plain error affecting substantial rights, even they were not raised by a lawyer. The only time that applies in Pennsylvania courts to some degree is in a capital murder case. Even in criminal cases where the lawyer fails to object, the failure to object constitutes waiver. In those instances, a defendant’s only remedy is a claim for an effective assistance of counsel. Objections must be timely. They should be either raised beforehand in a Motion in Limine or before an answer is given. In those instances where the answer is provided, counsel should move to strike the objectionable answer.  You can also note a continuing objection; however, once the court makes a definitive ruling, it’s not necessary to request a continuing objection on that line of questioning.  And remember all issues to be preserved on appeal must be properly raised during post-trial motions.

To be successful on appeal, the evidence being ruled upon must not only be erroneous but harmful. Therefore, even when you are right, our appellate courts can determine that error was harmless. In civil cases, the error must affect a “substantial right of a party.”  So object when appropriate and be certain to state the basis for the impermissible evidence in order to properly represent your client.

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