Irrelevant is a commonly made objection. A question is relevant if the answer really matters to the case. Conversely, a question is irrelevant if the answer does not make the facts more or less true than they would be without that answer.
Sometimes the answer may have some relevance to the case but would be so unfairly prejudicial that the judge will not permit it. For example, if the defendant in a personal injury case had an accident while driving home after an extramarital tryst, the judge will probably exclude evidence of the affair. While the defendant’s pre-accident activities may have some bearing on his her state of mind and therefore, on his or her operation of the vehicle, this evidence might so prejudice the jury against him or her that it might blind them to the rest of his or her testimony. Trials are supposed to be about the events leading directly to the conflict between you and the defendant, not morality plays about private lives.
Beyond the Scope
The objection that a question is beyond the scope generally occurs in redirect and recross-examination. These are the stages of the testimony that take place immediately after the conclusion of direct and cross-examination. Redirect is supposed to be limited to subjects that were explored on cross-examination. It is not another opportunity to have the witness restate the testimony elicited on direct. Nor is it a chance to ask questions that slipped the lawyer’s mind during direct. If the lawyer attempts to achieve either of these ends, the opposing lawyer should object that the question goes beyond the scope of cross-examination.
Recross is supposed to be limited to the issues raised on redirect. Re-redirect should be limited to subjects raised on recross-and so on. In this way, the inquiry is progressively narrowed until all appropriate questions have been asked. Yet the judge has great discretion here to overrule this objection. Even where the question is clearly beyond the scope, the judge may permit the question for any number of reasons. Every judge has his or her own practice when it comes to this and every other objection. That is one reason it pays to have a lawyer who tries a lot of cases. Familiarity with the tendencies of judges is a big advantage.
Technically, the objection of beyond the scope is available during cross-examination. Thus, your lawyer may object to an opposing counsel’s question on the basis that it is beyond the scope of direct testimony. Realistically, the judge is very unlikely to sustain this kind of objection, since cross-examination represents the defense lawyer’s first round of questioning. Practically any inquiry that is relevant to the case and is otherwise not objectionable is fair game during cross-examination, even if not raised on direct examination. For example, even if your lawyer does not question you about a prior car accident during direct examination, the defense lawyer can certainly ask about this on cross-examination. Even though technically this area of inquiry might be beyond the scope, no judge would sustain this objection. It would be foolish for a lawyer to even offer this objection. Again, beyond the scope is an objection typically heard during redirect and recross-examination.