Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet

April 18, 2024

mock trial objections cheat sheet

Saying “objection” in the mock trial courtroom takes guts and a precise sense of timing. Most importantly, it requires a clear understanding of which objection to make and why. In court, an objection is a statement made by an attorney during direct examination (when evidence is introduced through witnesses) and cross-examination (when the narrative of the direct examination is challenged). These mock trial objections allow evidence presented to be questioned or challenged. The ultimate goal of an objection, generally, is to limit evidence usable by the opposing side. While objections can be quite complicated in the US legal system, mock trial competitions tend to publish their own simplified rules, so that student participants use only the most essential objections. Continue reading for common types of mock trial objections, and be sure to check the rules of your competition to know exactly which kinds of objections to prepare for.

 What exactly happens with an objection?

A mock trial attorney can make an objection when they hear something that’s objectionable during direct and cross-examination (opening and closing statements cannot be objected to).

Here’s how it works. If the attorney decides to make an objection, they will stand up and say “objection.” Next, they will say what the objection is, beginning with a statement such as “This is an ambiguous and vague question.” In response, the judge may ask for further explanation of the objection, or ask the opposing legal counsel to respond. If prompted, the attorney must be ready to justify their decision to object. This attorney must be precise, only offering as much information as is necessary (many judges prefer less over more, though it’s also useful to observe the judge’s preferences beforehand). If the judge agrees with the objection, then it will be “sustained.” If the judge sides with the opposing counsel, the objection will be “overruled.” Once the judge announces this decision, everyone generally accepts it and moves on (it’s best not to argue with the judge further).

In the following situations listed below, the attorney must act quickly, often in the span of a split-second. If more than several seconds pass between the evidence in question and the attorney’s objection, it’s likely too late for the objection to be sustained.

Here are 15 common mock trial objections in two parts: first, objections to questions, and second, objections to testimony.

Mock Trial Objections to Questions

These objections occur in response to the questions asked during a testimony, and sometimes to the answer given. This kind of objection is less about the content of the question or answer, and more about its nature. Here are some common types of objections to questions in the mock trial courtroom.

1) Leading question

A leading question is one that already suggests an answer. Leading questions are permitted during cross-examination, but not during direct examination, since they may cause the witness to say things they may not otherwise have said. Many leading questions are actually statements, followed by a question such as “correct?” or “isn’t it true?” Leading questions might also include specific descriptors about a scene, which risks putting words in the witness’s mouth.

Example of leading question: “At 3 PM on the day of the crime, you were at the grocery store, weren’t you?”

An Example of a leading question: “Was the house filthy when you arrived?”

Example of objection: “Objection. The counsel is leading the witness.”

2) Compound question

Compound questions include two or more questions in one, though attorneys are only permitted to ask one question at a time. These questions risk confusing the witness, as well as the listeners in the courtroom, who could be unsure of which question an answer refers to.

Example of compound question: “When you arrived at the scene of the accident, did you talk to anyone or try to determine what happened?”

(In this example, the one question is really two questions: “Did you talk to anyone?” and “Did you try to determine what happened?”).

Example of objection: “Objection. This question is compound.”

Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet (Continued)

3) Narrative question/answer

Objections can be made when a question calls for a narrative answer, or when a witness begins telling an uncalled-for narrative (the witness is only allowed to answer the attorney’s question, rather than providing further testimony that could be unrelated). While asking and telling “what happened” are permitted, the narrative objection prevents long winded answers that veer off from the topic at hand.

Example of narrative question: “Describe what happened the day of the crime.”

An example of a narrative answer: “I began the day by getting an iced latte at Starbucks, stopping at the gas station, and driving to work. When I arrived, everything seemed normal. Two hours later, I left for lunch with my coworker and then…”

Examples of objection: “Objection. Calls for a narrative,” or “Objection. The witness is giving a narrative.”

4) Argumentative question

Attorneys are not allowed to argue their case through their questions. Argumentative questions might be overly aggressive. Often, they come with adjectives characterizing the situation, in order to convince the court of an argument before the witness has had the opportunity to answer. These objections aim to protect witnesses, especially during cross-examinations.

Example of argumentative question: “Wasn’t careless to leave the door unlocked, easily accessible to anyone who might enter?”

Example of objection: “Objection. This question is argumentative.”

Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet (Continued)

5) Asked and answered question

Asked and answered objections occur when an attorney has already asked a question and the witness has already provided an answer. Attorneys can only ask a question once. If the witness has provided an answer, the attorney cannot re-ask the question. However, attorneys are allowed to ask a question more than once if the witness has not given a full answer.

Example of asked and answered: “Were you at the grocery store between 3 and 3:30 PM?” “Yes.” “So, to be clear, you weren’t at home because you were at the grocery store?

Example of objection: “Objection. Asked and answered.”

6) Vague or ambiguous question

Objections can be made when questions to witnesses are overly vague in nature. For example, a vague or ambiguous question might use a pronoun, such as “he,” “she,” or “it,” instead of mentioning the subject directly. These types of questions risk confusing the witnesses.

Example of vague and ambiguous question: Did you see it happen?

Example of objection: “Objection. This question is vague and ambiguous.”

Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet (Continued)

7) Non-responsive answer

This objection occurs when a witness does not answer the attorney’s question. This objection can be made by another member of the attorney’s counsel to urge the witness to answer the question rather than trying to avoid it.

Example of non-responsive answer: “Did you have the spare set of keys the night of the robbery?” “I had nothing to do with the robbery.”

Example of objection: “Objection. This testimony is non-responsive.”

8) Outside the scope of cross-examination

This objection can be made during a redirect examination, which occurs after the cross-examination to clarify issues raised. If an attorney asks a witness a question that had not been brought up during the cross-examination, this question is considered “outside the scope,” and the opposite counsel may object.

Example of objection: “Objection. This question is outside the scope of the cross-examination.”

Mock Trial Objections to Testimony

Next, we have objections made in response to improper testimony or evidence. Some of these objections also apply when the opposing counsel’s question asks the witness to give improper testimony.

1) Relevance of question or answer

This kind of objection is made when the attorney believes that the information being asked or answered is irrelevant. In other words, it has seemingly nothing to do with the case. At best, this information wastes time, and at worst, it can reflect negatively on your counsel. While it’s important to object to this at times, you should be careful not to overuse this kind of objection, since relevance can be a highly subjective issue.

Example of relevance of question: “What was the victim’s favorite ice cream flavor?”

An example of relevance of answer: “The victim loved all things chocolate.”

Examples of objection: “Objection. Relevance of question,” or, “Objection. The witness is testifying on an irrelevant matter.”

2) Question lacks foundation

An objection can be made when the opposing counsel has not established a foundation for a question. If the judge sustains this kind of objection, the council might be asked to “lay foundation,” which involves returning to a more general topic. Often, this issue comes up during the direct examination, when the examining attorneys skip necessary foundational questions in effort to save time. In doing so, they risk withholding information from listeners in the court. A witness testimony may also lack foundation.

Example of lacking foundation: “What was the relationship of the victim to your eldest sister?” (When the witness’s family or sister had not yet been brought up).

Example of objection: “Objection. This question lacks foundation.”

Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet (Continued)

3) Speculation

Two issues may lead to this objection. First, the attorney asks the witness about a topic on which they have no personal knowledge, and second, the witness begins to talk about something that they have not directly observed. Witnesses are only permitted to testify based on what they have experienced or observed, not what they believe someone else may have thought or done. The only exception to this is if an expert witness is testifying, in which case their particular knowledge grants them greater exemption from this kind of objection. For example, an art authenticator may have the unique skillset necessary for offering a professional opinion on whether a painting has been copied.

Example of speculative question: “Why did Ms. Smith dislike the victim?”

An example of a speculative answer: “Ms. Smith probably committed the crime, since she has always hated the victim.”

Example of objection: “Objection. This question calls for speculation,” or, “Objection. The witness lacks personal knowledge.”

4) Creation of a material fact

A fact is material if it makes a difference in the outcome of the case. This objection can be made when the attorney believes that the witness has made a factual error in the testimony, and this error might impact the case. If the attorney believes that the witness has lied, it is often wiser to take up the issue during cross-examination, if it seems there will be time.

Example of creation of a material fact: “I was at work until 5 PM that day.” “But didn’t your witness statement say you left work at 4 PM?”

Example of objection: “Objection. This is a new material fact.”

Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet (Continued)

5) Improper character evidence

In a trial, character evidence refers to personality traits that justify how someone would have acted in a particular situation. Character evidence is only permissible in court when 1) it is applied to a defendant to prove innocence; 2) it is applied to the victim to prove innocence; and 3) it is applied to show dishonesty or a tendency to lie on the part of a witness (in this third scenario, the opposing counsel may rebut with contrary character evidence). This objection can be made when impermissible character evidence is testified, or when an attorney’s question calls for improper character evidence.

Example of improper character evidence in question: “What is the reputation of the defendant at your workplace?

An example of improper character evidence in answer: “Everyone in the office knows that the defendant has anger issues.”

Example of objections: “Objection. The question calls for inadmissible character evidence,” or, “Objection. The witness has provided improper character testimony.”

6) Lay witness opinion

Lay witnesses, or non-expert witnesses, are only permitted to testify according to personal knowledge and experience. While witnesses can provide opinions, they cannot provide opinions regarding a topic they would not know about. Similar to the case of speculation, an attorney can object to a lay witness opinion.

Example of lay witness opinion: “To me, the defendant seems to have mental health issues” (stated by a witness who is not a mental health professional).

Example of objection: “Objection. This lay witness has provided an improper opinion.”

Mock Trial Objections – Cheat Sheet (Continued)

7) Hearsay

Hearsay is a statement made outside of the court and offered within the court. For example, if a witness testifies about something they heard another person say, this is considered hearsay. Hearsay statements are not considered credible, since they are not said under oath or subject to cross-examination. This one is a bit complicated, since there are a number of exceptions in which hearsay is permitted. Here are a few examples:

  • Declaration against interest: the statement is used against the economic, legal, or criminal interests of the declarant
  • State of mind: the statement reveals the declarant’s state of mind at the time of the statement
  • Reputation of character: the statement is evidence of someone’s reputation within a community or group
  • Dying declaration: the statement is made by a dying person about their cause of death

Example of hearsay: “The defendant told me three weeks ago that she was angry at the victim.”

Example of objection: “Objection. This testimony includes hearsay.”

Final thoughts – Mock Trial Objections

Hopefully these objections and examples have been helpful as you prepare for your next mock trial competition. Remember to be as clear, concise, and confident as possible (there’s no need to include more than one or two sentences in your objection) when you stand to make your objection. And of course, always check the rules of your mock trial competition to see which objections are allowed. Good luck!

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