Most readers will admit to watching, or at least having seen, television shows about trial lawyers. Boston Legal, The Good Wife, Law & Order – the list goes on. In those shows, a trial lawyer will demonstratively stand up and declare “I object,” to a particular photograph being shown to the jury or a particular question by the opposing attorney. Real attorneys, such as Durham-based appellate attorney Mark Hayes, understand that, although perhaps more dramatic than the real life equivalent, this is oftentimes a relatively accurate depiction a trial lawyer’s duty to object to the inclusion or exclusion of evidence. This issue is particularly relevant if one of the parties involved in the case appeals the court’s decision, regardless of whether the case was a criminal prosecution, a divorce proceeding, a complex contractual dispute, or any other legal matter.
For example, in a dispute between employee and employer over unpaid wages, a copy of the employer’s financial records showing exactly when, to whom, and what amounts of compensation were paid to the employer’s employees could be an extremely significant piece of evidence. If the financial records show that the employer did in fact pay the employee, but the evidence was not admitted and the court found in favor of the employee, the employer would want to appeal the court’s decision not to admit the evidence. Conversely, if the financial records show that the employer in fact failed to pay the employee, but the evidence was not admitted and the court found in favor of the employer, the employee would likewise want to appeal the court’s decision not to admit the evidence.
Being able to appeal on the issue that a trial court incorrectly failed to admit and consider certain evidence means that such a decision by the trial court is not necessarily final. Appellate attorneys such as Mark Hayes will frequently be able to argue that a trial court would have had a better understanding of the facts of a case if it had admitted and considered evidence that it decided not to admit.