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JUDGE ASKING QUESTIONS OF WITNESSES - MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
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JUDGE ASKING QUESTIONS OF WITNESSES

From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges

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CRIMINAL JURY TRIAL; Minn. Evid. R. 614 (b) does allow a judge to ask questions of a witness. CRIMINAL JURY TRIAL; Minn. Evid. R. 614 (b) does allow a judge to ask questions of a witness. However, in a criminal jury trial, the judge must be extremely careful about and avoid asking questions of a state’s witness that could be construed as aiding the state in proof of its case.[1] The state has the burden of proving all of the elements of the crime charged. The judge should not ask a question that assists the state in proving an element. For example the prosecutor forgets to ask a question to establish venue. The judge asks one of the state’s witnesses what county the defendant’s acts occurred in. The judge, however, must be careful to “ ‘always be calmly judicial, dispassionate and impartial. He should seriously avoid all appearances of advocacy as to those questions which are ultimately to be submitted to the jury.[2] In a court trial the trial judge has somewhat more latitude in asking questions of the state’s witnesses.




References:

  1. State v. Ostrem, 520 N.W.2d 426 (Minn.App.,1994); State v. Scott, 501 N.W.2d 608 (Minn.,1993). Minn. R. Evid. 614 (b), But see State v. Rasmussen, 128 N.W.2d 289.
  2. U.S. v. Slone, 833 F.2d 595.