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In the law of the United States of America, an objection is a formal protest raised in court during a trial to disallow a witness's testimony or other evidence which would be in violation of the rules of evidence or other procedural law. An objection is typically raised after the opposing party asks a question of the witness, but before the witness can answer, or when the opposing party is about to enter something into evidence. The judge then makes a ruling on whether the objection is "sustained" (the judge agrees with the objection and disallows the question, testimony, or evidence) or "overruled" (the judge disagrees with the objection and allows the question, testimony, or evidence). An attorney may choose to "rephrase" a question that has been objected to, so long as the judge permits it. Lawyers should make an objection before there is an answer to the question.
An objection may also be raised against a judge's ruling, in order to preserve the right to appeal the ruling. Under certain circumstances, a court may need to hold some kind of pretrial hearing and make evidentiary rulings in order to resolve important issues like personal jurisdiction or whether to impose sanctions for extreme misconduct by parties or counsel. As with trials, a party or their counsel would normally raise objections to the evidence presented at the hearing in order to ask the court to disregard impermissible evidence or argument, as well as to preserve such objections as a basis for interlocutory or final appeals from such rulings.
Objections are also commonly used in depositions during the discovery process to preserve the right to exclude testimony from being considered as evidence in support of or in opposition to a later motion, such as a motion for summary judgment.
Historically, at trial, an attorney had to promptly take an exception (by saying "I except" followed by a reason) immediately after an objection was overruled in order to preserve it for appeal, or else the objection was permanently waived. In addition, at the end of the trial, the attorney had to submit a written "bill of exceptions" listing all the exceptions which he intended to appeal upon, which the judge then signed and sealed, making it part of the trial record. Eventually most lawyers and judges came to recognize that exceptions were a waste of time because the objection itself and the context of the surrounding record are all the appellate court really needs to resolve the point in dispute. Starting in the 1930s, exceptions were abolished in the federal courts and in many state courts as well. For example, California technically did not abolish exceptions, but merely rendered them superfluous by simply treating just about every ruling of the trial court as automatically excepted to. Thus, in nearly all U.S. courts, it is now sufficient that the objection was clearly made on the record.
Types of objections
A continuing objection is an objection to a series of questions about a related point. A continuing objection may be made, in the discretion of the court, to preserve an issue for appeal without distracting the factfinder (whether jury or judge) with an objection to every question. A continuing objection is made where the objection itself is overruled, but the trial judge permits the continuing objection to that point to be made silently so that there are fewer interruptions. An example of an instance where this is done is when a lawyer could be held negligent for not objecting to a particular line of questioning, yet has had his previous objections overruled.
- Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 46, promulgated in 1938 as part of the original version of the FRCP, states that "A formal exception to a ruling or order is unnecessary." Federal Rule of Evidence 103(a) states that once "the court makes a definitive ruling on the record admitting or excluding evidence, either at or before trial, a party need not renew an objection or offer of proof to preserve a claim of error for appeal."
- See California Evidence Code Section 647.