In any trial, whether in a bench or jury trial, it’s easy to get lost in the heat of it, and miss those crucial objections. Or, forget to object in such a way as to preserve your objection for appellate review. In Preserving Objections to Jury Charges, an article that will appear in Monday’s New York Law Journal (it is available in the online version now) Victor Olds and Elizabeth Bohnett,A discuss the consequences of failing to adequately preserve objections to jury charges, including the difficulties that can be faced on appeal when the objections aren’t properly preserved.
Of course, this being a blog devoted to the CPLR, I’m really only interested in that aspect of article, however, that should not be taken to mean that the article should not be read in its entirety–it should.
Without any further interruption, here is the CPLR part(s):
The Preservation Doctrine
The preservation doctrine (also called the "contemporaneous objection
rule") has several objectives, to wit, (1) to ensure that each party
has ample opportunity to hear and respond to the arguments of the other
party; (2) to provide the trial judge with the ability to issue rulings
on all matters and correct errors while the case is still at the trial
phase; and (3) to curtail the number of time-consuming, frivolous
Indeed, the overarching effect of the preservation doctrine is to limit
appellate review exclusively to those grounds that were raised at the
trial court level.4
Section 5501 of the CPLR is the basic statutory provision governing
appellate review in New York. Under that provision, appellate
consideration of any final judgment is proper regarding a ruling or
jury instruction contained therein, provided an appropriate objection
has been made by the appellant at trial below.5
In addition, CPLR §4017 requires that any objection so rendered be both
"timely" and "specific" in order to be adequately preserved. Moreover,
with reference to jury instructions, CPLR §4110-b mandates that
appellate review of jury charges is available only in those instances
where the party claiming error registers a specific objection and does
so before the jury retires to consider the verdict.
New York courts have generally held that the timeliness requirement
means that the objection must be registered at some point during the
while the specificity component insists that the challenge be focused
on the precise alleged error whose correction is being urged on appeal.7
It follows that if counsel neglects to make a timely and specific
objection, he will be deemed to have waived his challenge on appeal.8
As the case law indicates, appellate courts generally take a dim view
of a failure to adhere to these rules, especially in cases involving
post-verdict challenges. What is particularly interesting, however, are
the various contexts in which these issues arise with respect to jury
charges. Indeed, the cases that have addressed this point are both
illustrative of how courts choose to apply the rules relating to
preservation, and instructive in helping one avoid some of the common
pitfalls that could entirely foreclose appellate review.
All the bold is mine. I added the footnote with the bios as they appear in the online version because it would take up too much damn space to put anything remotely similar in the text.
A. Victor Olds is the managing director and general
counsel of Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services and an adjunct
professor of appellate advocacy at Brooklyn Law School. Elizabeth Bohnett is a staff attorney at Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services. Helen Tang, a law student at Columbia Law School, participated in the preparation of this article.