The average trial transcript handled by the average criminal trial attorney is a sad sight to behold. All of my client’s hopes turn on what is said in this document and often, I am sad to say, on what is not said in this document. There is one word that makes the difference between dead lifeless prose and a story that leaps from the page. One word — objection. I am not sure why more lawyers don’t say it, but it doesn’t get said enough.
If criminal trials were a baseball game, then baseball would look much differently that it currently looks. Imagine the umpires paying close attention but not saying a word. Pitch by pitch, hit by hit, not a word spoken as the teams play the game. However, the moment that a player asks for a ruling, the umpire says “strike” or “safe” or “out.” Imagine if, for once, when the manager emerges from the dugout, the umpire could make a definitive ruling, but he won’t do anything at all until then. And, if you say nothing the whole game and you lose, it’s your fault because you never asked any of the umpires to make a call.
I read many transcripts where my team loses and nobody said a word.
In Georgia, “all evidence is admitted as a matter of course unless a valid ground of objection is timely interposed.” Moore v. State.
So, it is important to describe the words that, when found on a transcript, are music to an appellate lawyer’s ears:
- Objection followed by reasoning. For instance, “objection, the question calls for hearsay,” or “objection “the evidence is irrelevant, it’s hearsay, and it is unduly prejudicial.” Keep in mind that you don’t need to scream it. You don’t need to smirk or anger anybody. In fact, a sheepish frighteneed quivering voice objection looks exactly like a loud, sarcastic, smirking objection in the Courier New font on the prited page of a transcript. If you don’t state the reason for the objection, then you haven’t objected really. Hawkins v. State.
- A Ruling. The judge ideally will say “overruled,” “sustained,” “I’ll allow it,” “I won’t allow it.” Those words are distinct from “move along,” “I note your objection,” “okay,” “ummm huhhh,” or silence. If your judge doesn’t rule, you can ask, again, with a quivering voice, sheepishly, with a single tear running down the side of your flushed red face, whether the objection is sustained or overruled. Remember, it all looks the same on the transcipt.
- Continuing. If something happens once, it’s likely to happen five more times, particulalry if it really hurts your client. So, you can object every time or you can ask that your objection be continuing.
Three things make the difference between a dull lifeless depressing transcript and a transcript that is the equivalent of something written by Tolstoy: (1) objection plus reasoning; (2) a ruling; (3) and an objection that continues.
Think about it and make your next transcript a great written work.