Saturday, October 2, 2010

General Objections Are Generally Worthless

In 1883, in Bergmann v Jones (94 NY 51) the Court of Appeal held that
The rule is well established that where there is a general objection to evidence and it is overruled and the evidence is received the ruling will not be held erroneous, unless there be some grounds which could not have been obviated had they been specified, or unless the evidence in its essential nature be incompetent.

And the Court had repeatedly reminded counsel that a general objection is generally no better as preserving an issue for appellate review than silence (see e.g., People v Vidal, 26 NY2d 249, 254 [1970] ["A general objection, in the usual course, is to no avail when overruled if not followed by a specific objection directing the court, and the adversary, to the particular infirmity of the evidence"]; People v West, 56 NY2d 662, 663 [1982] ["Although a general protest was raised against this testimony, defendant at no time objected to this testimony on the specific ground that it constituted improper bolstering. Thus, defendant has failed to preserve this issue for appellate review"]; People v Fleming, 70 NY2d 947, 948 [1988] ["The word “objection” alone was insufficient to preserve the issue for our review"]; People v Tevaha, 84 NY2d 879,881 [1988]["Defense counsel simply made a general objection when the testimony was proffered, and failed to advise the trial court that the present claimed error was the basis for his objection. The word “objection” alone was insufficient to preserve the issue for our review"]; People v. Everson, 100 NY2d 609,610 [2003] ["A party's failure to specify the basis for its general objection renders its argument unpreserved for this Court's review"]).

So one might think that attorneys would understand that in objecting they must specify the basis for their objections. Otherwise, the only person possibly fooled into thinking that the attorney meaningfully objected to the admission of inadmissible evidence is the client. Yet attorneys continue to make general objections and appellate courts continue to find the objection inadequate to preserve the issue for review.

Two recent decisions of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department should serve as further reminders of the uselessness of general objections. In People v Shire (2010 NY Slip Op 06909 [4th Dept 10/01/10]) Defendant failed to preserve for our review his contention that the admission of testimony of a police detective that defendant possessed the cocaine with the intent to sell it invaded the province of the jury because "defendant made only a general objection to the testimony."

Similarly, in People v McMillon (2010 NY Slip Op 06925 [4th Dept 10/01/10]), the Court held that a general objection did not preserve for review a claim that it was violation of the right of confrontation to permit a police officer to testify that he told the defendant that other witnesses had placed defendant at the scene of the homicide.

So please, before standing up to object, plan to say something other than "objection, your honor."

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