Mastering Objections and the Rules of Evidence

Objections in Mock Trial are rooted in the Federal Rules of Evidence. These rules are developed and adopted by the Supreme Court that govern how evidence can be used or admitted during the trial.

There are rare cases where in some states, objections may be rooted in another form of the Rules of Evidence. You will need to check with your Mock Trial moderator or with your state’s bar association.

Today, this article will base its rules around the “National High School Mock Trial Championship” Federal Rules of Evidence. These rules are adopted for Mock Trial and specifically, the National High School Mock Trial Championship. You may download a copy in the Resources section of this website.

In the rules of evidence, there will be ten (X) articles that list out the rules. However, there are only four important rules that this guide will list out. The other rules are rarely used.


If you want to skip through this guide to the specific rules, click here:

  • Article IV – Relevance and it’s Limits
  • Article VI – Witnesses
  • Article VII – Opinions and Expert Testimony
  • Article VIII – Hearsay

Overview of Objections

In this article, we’re going to talk about mastering objections and the rules of evidence. Objections are the most important skill that you must learn as an attorney as it is used as leverage during a trial. When you say “Objection,” you are pointing out a legal issue in the line of questioning or answer during the trial. There are two forms of objections and they are:

  • Procedural Objections – These are made when there are legal issues with the question on how it is asked or phrased.
  • Substantive Objections – These are made when there are legal issues with the content of the question or answer.

How to Object

Stand >> Object >> Grounds >> Stop

  1. Stand: Before you can object, you must stand up before you say a word.
  2. Object: Say the word “Objection”
  3. Grounds: State the grounds for the Objection
  4. Stop: Let the other side respond to the Objection

Ending Strong on Closing Arguments

Closing Arguments are the Mona Lisa’s of Mock Trial. Closing Arguments require you to take down notes and create an argument on the spot using evidence that was admitted during the trial while including your theme and theory. It’s the single most important task that can either make or break your case. It’s the attorney’s only chance to stand before the jury and argue their case theory without having to worry about objections or interference.

Closing argument are the most challenging as you must tie two or more hours of testimony for the most important facts and show the jury that you have proven everything the opening attorney promised. Closing arguments are the time to answer questions that the opening attorney presented in the beginning and leave the jury with a clear, clean cut, painting in their heads.

Focusing on a few solid points will really drive home the jury. Elicit the most important facts that came out on the record. Having good content is not difficult, given the argument is logical. The one thing that separates team is good presentation to great presentation. The jury is most likely paying more attention to the way you move and speak than the actual content. Emotion, conviction, confidence, and passion are the most important factors in swaying a jury in your favor and getting the most points.

  • Remember Primacy, Recency, and Frequency
  • Remember Move About The Well

Tips

Talk to Your Team

Ask each attorney and each witness what the three most important facts are from his role and use that information to creation three important facts for your speech. Closing Arguments are a summation of all the key facts of your case and it’s important to consult your teammates to learn about the important things they will put in their exams.

Draft First

Always write a draft and have it reviewed by your teammates and coaches. This will help you get the vivid imagery that your closing needs.

Time Your Closing

It’s important to stay under time (If your Mock Trial program has time limits for closings and openings). Don’t go over time or go under time. The time you get (usually 5 minutes) should be more than enough for you to say everything that needs to be said. You don’t want to lose points for going over time. It’s good to trim the useless facts and keep your speech precise.

Rule of Three & Primacy, Recency, Frequency

Remember these rules for everything. Your jury hears things that are First Heard, Recently Heard, and Frequently Heard. It’s also best to keep three important points to talk about in your closing.

Comment on Admitted Facts

If you comment on evidence that was not introduced, it would be considered a mistrial in a real courtroom. In Mock Trial, the jury will just deduct points, or the opposing team may expose your error.

Practice Is Key!

There is nothing better than practice. Practice your speech in front of your teammates and coaches to get feedback from them. Practice your speech in front of other people, as well, to get even more feedback from a different perspective.

Prosecution/Plaintiff ALWAYS speaks last

People always forget this but Prosecution/Plaintiff ALWAYS speaks. It’s because the burden falls on Prosecution/Plaintiff and they will always close last. This provides Prosecution/Plaintiff a rebuttal to rebut opposing counsel’s arguments or flip their theme. When you’re on Prosecution/Plaintiff, listen to the Defense closing and try to flip their speech.

No Objections are Allowed

As always, Objections are NEVER allowed on Openings and Closings.

Silence Speaks Louder than Words

In Public Speaking, the most powerful tool you can use is a pause. By taking healthy pauses between a point, your words will resonate with the Jury and will serve to bring their attention back to you.


Organization

Paragraph One: Captivate Your Audience

  1. First paragraph should focus on repeating the theme and theory. It should be able to draw the Jury into your side of the case. The paragraph should focus on rehashing the egregious facts in the other side’s case.
  2. Be sure to utilize pauses, voice fluctuation, and tone changes to capture the jury.

Paragraph Two: Burden of Proof 

  1. Prosecution/Plaintiff should acknowledge the burden of proof. If you are on Defense, emphasize the burden the other side holds
  2. Burden of Proof differs between Civil and Criminal cases and explain your Burden of Proof.

Paragraph Three, Four, and Five: Walk Through The Facts

  1. Organize the case topically as this is the most persuasive organization style. Similarly, this means you should avoid chronological, witness-by-witness accounts.
  2. Rule of Three & Primacy, Recency, and Frequency. That means, each of these three paragraphs should highlight an important fact that will advance your side’s case and will tell the jury the story of what happened through these paragraphs. In other words, people remember what happens first, what happens last, and what happens often.
  3. Use Exhibits. If a document or photo was admitted that may be useful for your closing, make use of it. In addition, it’s a good idea to hold evidence in front of the jury to visualize your point and to captivate their emotions.
  4. Bury the Bad Facts. If a witness was hammered on cross, try to rehabilitate them during the closing argument by pointing the jury back in the correct direction and reminding them of the important facts.
  5. Attack. If an opposing witness is being paid to testify, or has something to gain, be sure to bring it up in your closing. Likewise, if an opposing witness has a bad past, bring that up.
  6. Comment on Broken Promises. If the opposing side made any promises on opening and they were broken, bring them up and hammer them for it. For instance, pointing out a broken promise is an easy way to damage their credibility.
  7. FLIP THEIR THEME. If there is any way to twist their theme to your favor, and it’s clever and honest, do it. However, if you cannot flip their theme or you feel it’s too weak, it’s probably NOT worth to attempt to flip their theme. Above all, a botched flipped theme won’t go over well with the Jury or the Judge.

Paragraph Six: End Strong

  1. End by leading the jury back to the theme
  2. Sum up your case in one sentence
  3. Make a strong emotional connection with the jury

Crafting the Perfect Opening Statement

Opening Statements are the first impressions to introducing yourself and your case-in-chief to the jury. In addition, eye-contact, presence, and confidence are all necessary for a successful Opening Statement. In other words, the opening statement is a story and your job is to tell that story and guide the jury through your story.

You are highlighting evidence and testimony that you are certain will be admitted during your case-in-chief. Above all, the opening statement should always be centered around your theme and case theory. The jury needs an effective and plausible explanation as to what happened and an opening statement will do the job.

If you sit down and the jury appears to be left in suspense, wanting to hear more, then you have achieved the most — to make the jury feel as you feel and believe as you believe.

To assist in Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, make sure to develop a central theme and case theory. Your theme is usually a catchy one-liner or small paragraph that grabs the jury’s attention. In addition, keep the jury focused on the main points of your case throughout the course of your opening statement, case-in-chief, and closing argument. If delivered correctly, the jury will grasp and remember your theme and theory at the conclusion of your closing argument.


Tips

Once the trial is in session, the attorney who gives the opening statement demonstrates to the jury what kind of attorneys your team will be and the opener will set the tone for the entire trial. The delivery of an opening is the most important so you should:

  1. Command Attention
  2. Stay Memorable
  3. Be Likable

As an opener, you need to present your team as people the jury can trust (and like). Simply, the jury needs to feel as you feel and believe as you believe. In addition, you cannot break their trust. Therefore, you should never make promises in an opening that you cannot keep, never talk about what the other side may argue, and only talk about testimony or exhibits that you are certain will be admitted. When in doubt, save everything that you want to add for your closing attorney to highlight in their closing argument.


Organization

  • First Paragraph: Start Strong
    1. The first minute of an opening is the most important part of a trial. Most importantly, first impressions are everything. Always remember, Primacy & Recency.
    2. Assert your theme and theory. Simply, begin with an anecdote, a story, or an appeal to emotions.
  • Second Paragraph: Burden of Proof & Important Legal Concepts
    1. If you are on Prosecution/Plaintiff, acknowledge your burden of proof. If you are on Defense, emphasize the burden the other side holds
    2. Discuss the legal issue(s) of the case
  • Third, Fourth, and Fifth Paragraphs: Walk Through The Facts
    1. Organize your case topically as this is the most persuasive organization style. In other words, this means you should avoid chronological, witness-by-witness accounts.
    2. Use the rule of three and remember Primacy, Recency, and Frequency. In other words, each of the three paragraphs should highlight an important fact that will advance your side’s case. In addition, you will tell the jury the story of what happened through these paragraphs. Similarly, people remember what happens first, what happens last, and what happens often.
  • Sixth Paragraph: End Strong
    1. End by leading the jury back to the theme
    2. Sum up your case in one sentence
    3. Make a strong emotional connection with the jury