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JUDGE INTERVENTION/OBJECTION TO STOP A WITNESS FROM ANSWERING A QUESTION IN THE ABSENCE OF AN OBJECTION - MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
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JUDGE INTERVENTION/OBJECTION TO STOP A WITNESS FROM ANSWERING A QUESTION IN THE ABSENCE OF AN OBJECTION

From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges

Click on “TRIAL PROCEDURES & PRACTICES FOR JUDGES” above to return to main page


IN A CRIMINAL CASE, THE TRIAL JUDGE HAS THE ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ENSURING A FAIR TRIAL.[1] WHILE THE COURT HAS WIDE DISCRETION IN THE APPLICATION OF THE RULES,[2] THE TRIAL COURT BEARS AN AFFIRMATIVE DUTY TO RAISE, ON THE COURT’S OWN INITIATIVE, MATTERS WHICH WOULD IMPACT THE UNDERLYING FAIRNESS OF THE TRIAL.[3]

Common bases for intervention include:

  • A question is asked by a prosecutor, the answer to which is not admissible because of missing foundation, and there is no objection by the defense.[4]
  • This is a complicated area in that an experienced defense attorney may purposefully be not objecting and waiting to cross-examine the witness. If the defense attorney is inexperienced the judge may stop the witness from answering the question and call the attorneys to the bench and ask the defense attorney if they have an objection. Clearly if the judge notes that the defense attorney was distracted and did not hear the question or answer, it would be appropriate for the judge to ask the prosecutor to repeat the question.
  • Counsel persists in making improper statements;[5]
  • Counsel persists in arguing a ruling;[6]
  • Counsel repeatedly asks a question that has already been ruled against;[7]
  • Unnecessary delay.[8]

The generally accepted perspective on judicial intervention in civil trials is that the judge should refrain from intervening and let the attorneys try their case. There is no constitutional right to a fair trial in a civil case.




References:

  1. State v. Salitros, 499 N.W.2d 815, 816 (Minn.,1993.) See, e.g., Spann v. State, 704 N.W.2d 486, 494 (Minn.,2005).
  2. 11A Minn. Prac., Courtroom Handbook Of Minn. Evid. R 102 (2007 ed.)
  3. State v. Salitros, 499 N.W.2d 815, 816-17 (Minn.,1993.) “The role of the trial judge complements the role of counsel. The trial judge is not a passive moderator at a free-for-all. The trial judge is the administrator of justice and has an affirmative obligation to keep counsel within bounds and to insure that the case is decided on the basis of relevant evidence and the proper inferences therefrom, not on the basis of irrelevant or prejudicial matters.” “The adversary nature of the proceedings does not relieve the trial judge of the obligation of raising on his or her initiative, at all appropriate times and in an appropriate manner, matters which may significantly promote a just determination of the trial.” I ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Special Functions of the Trial Judge 6-1.1 (2 ed. 1979).
  4. State v. Salitros, 499 N.W.2d 815, 816 (Minn.,1993.) See, e.g., Spann v. State, 704 N.W.2d 486, 494 (Minn.,2005).
  5. “[W]e have made it clear that if prosecutors persist in making improper statements such as those made in this case, we will not hesitate, in an appropriate case, to make the prosecutor try the case over again.” State v. Salitros, 499 N.W.2d 815, 816 (Minn.,1993.)
  6. E.g. U.S. v. Gomes, 177 F.3d 76 (1st Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 911, 120 S. Ct. 260, 145 L. Ed. 2d 218 (1999) and cert. denied, 528 U.S. 941, 120 S. Ct. 352, 145 L. Ed. 2d 275 (1999) (Judge rebuked counsel for repeatedly ignoring instructions to stop arguing after a ruling had been made.)
  7. E.g. Walker v. Bishop, 408 F.2d 1378 (8th Cir. 1969) (Counsel repeated an interrogation despite a previous ruling against its admissibility.)
  8. E.g. U.S. v. Levine, 180 F.3d 869, 170 A.L.R. Fed 707 (7th Cir. 1999) (Counsel repeatedly ignored orders to move along and returned to subjects that had been foreclosed.)