October 27, 2014 • Legal Terminology
There is a famous scene in the 1982 movie ‘The Verdict’ in which a medical malpractice lawyer played by Paul Newman is up for trial in a court presided over by an autocratic judge, portrayed brilliantly by Mila O’Shea. Paul’s character objects to a line of questioning by the defense lawyer and the judge turns him down. The scene acts out something like this:
Paul Newman: “Objection!!”
Paul Newman “Exception!!!”
Judge “Noted and thank you.”
Many years ago, this very scene was being played out at various courtrooms across the country. Whenever a lawyer objects to an action taken by his opposing attorney, the presiding judge has two options―either to agree with the objection and ‘sustain’ it, or to ‘overrule’ the said objection and allow the opposing lawyer to get on with whatever he is trying to get at.
A Formal Way of Protest
An objection therefore is a formal protest that a lawyer raises in court during a trial and it is normally done with the intention to disallow a witness’ testimony or any other evidence in court which goes against the rules of evidence or some other procedural law. In the past whenever an objection was overruled, a trial lawyer would immediately jump from his seat to yell out that he took exception to the judge’s ruling. An objection to the fact the first objection wasn’t given due consideration.
The key reason for doing so was to preserve the objection in record for the time of appeal. If the attorney did not voice his exception, the objection could be permanently waived. At this point the presiding judge could take note of the exception or tell the objecting counselor that his objection had no place in the trial at all.
Making the Appeals Process Easier
According to the rules of the court many generations ago, attorneys had to submit a ‘bill of exceptions’ which listed all the exceptions that they wished to appeal upon later. This bill would then be signed by the judge, sealed, and made part of the trial records. However, as time passed, lawyers and judges came to realize that this process was time consuming and completely unnecessary. The point of dispute could be resolved by taking into account the objection, and the surrounding record.
Therefore, in the 1930s the federal courts and many state courts in America decided to abolish the process of appealing exceptions by making a list of debatable points. Some states did not out rightly abolish exceptions but like the State of California rendered them superfluous by accepting that every ruling of the trial court was automatically expected to. Today, in most US courts, it is enough to have your objection clearly stated on record and the same can be preserved for appeals. This has made the appeals process much easier and less time consuming for lawyers all across America.