Dateline: September, 2021, Issue 1

Do frequent objections by attorneys alienate jurors?

During trial, objections are the primary way in which an attorney can enforce evidentiary rules. Many attorneys worry that objecting might alienate a jury.

Reed (2019) examined juror reactions to objections in two studies. In both studies, mock jurors listened to an audio trial of an armed robbery case and then rendered a verdict, rated the favorability of both the prosecuting and defense attorney, and answered questions related to memory for the evidence. In both studies, objections (when made) were only made by the defense attorney.

The first study focused on whether jurors react similarly to attorney objections versus legally irrelevant trial interruptions (e.g., cell phones, church bells, construction noises, sneezing, and coughing). Some jurors heard infrequent trial disturbances (either interruptions or objections), while other jurors heard frequent trial disturbances (either interruptions or objections). In the infrequent disturbance versions, the audio trial had 3 interruptions or objections, while the frequent disturbance versions had 15 interruptions or objections in a 45-minute time span. Objections included hearsay, relevance, speculation, leading, asked and answered, and argumentative. Each objection was followed by a judicial ruling. Each interruption was followed by a parallel judicial comment.

Jurors treated objections and interruptions similarly. Objections did not influence verdicts, attorney favorability or memory for evidence any differently than legally-irrelevant interruptions. While mock jurors hearing a trial with a high frequency of disturbances rated the trial as more annoying, the frequency of objections did not influence verdicts, attorney likeability, or memory for evidence. Interestingly, while frequent objections had no effect on jurors' perception of the defense attorney's aggressiveness, when the defense attorney objected, the prosecuting attorney (who never objected) was rated as more aggressive.

Reed's second study focused on objection frequency (infrequent or frequent, as in the first study) and the gender of the defense attorney doing the objecting. Jurors again found the trial with frequent objections to be more annoying, but as in the first study, frequent objections did not influence verdicts, perceptions of the attorneys, or memory for evidence. Male and female attorneys were rated similarly when objecting and when not objecting.

In both studies, mock jurors rated the frequent objection trial version (with 15 objections in 45 minutes) to have more disturbances than the infrequent trial version (with 3 objections in 45 minutes). Of note, however, mock jurors rated the frequent objection trial version (with 15 objections in 45 minutes) as having only a moderate number of objections, suggesting they expect even more objections in a trial than one objection every 3 minutes or so.

While objection frequency did not affect verdicts, attorney favorability, or memory for evidence in either study, jurors' perceptions of the attorneys independently turned out to be important in both studies. Jurors who liked the prosecutor more were more likely to vote guilty. Jurors who liked the defense attorney more were more likely to vote not guilty.

The researcher concludes that attorneys do not need to fear making objections. The researcher cautions, however, that although concerns about objections have not been empirically supported, concerns about jurors being unable to disregard inadmissible evidence have been supported in other research and so objections need to be made early to preemptively stop the jury from hearing inadmissible evidence.

Source Reed, K. (2019). Calls for speculation: An experimental examination of juror perceptinos of attorney objections. Buffalo Law Review, 67(1), pp.53-87.