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JURY ASKING QUESTIONS IN CIVIL OR CRIMINAL CASES - MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
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JURY ASKING QUESTIONS IN CIVIL OR CRIMINAL CASES

From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges

Jury Questions in Criminal Trials

Jurors are not allowed to ask question of witnesses in criminal trials.[1]

Jury Questions in Civil Trials

At the trial judge’s discretion, jurors may ask question of witnesses in a civil trial.[2]

The General Rules of Practice for Minnesota District Courts sets out these recommended guidelines for juror questioning in civil cases:

If the jury has a question regarding the case during deliberations, the court shall instruct the foreperson to reduce it to writing and submit it through appropriate court personnel. Upon receipt of such a written question, the court shall review the propriety of an answer with counsel, unless counsel have waived the right to participate or cannot be found after reasonable and diligent search documented by the court. Such review may be in person or by telephone, and shall be on the record outside the hearing of the jury. The written question and answer shall be made a part of the record. The answer shall be given in open court, absent a stipulation to the contrary.[3]


If the jury is going to ask questions the parties must be present. Defendant and his lawyer must be present if the jury has a question about the evidence, the law, or its ability to reach a verdict (unless they waive their appearance).[4]

Exception: if the juror's question regard working conditions, the parties need not be present. Examples: it's too hot, how late do we work, a fist-fight is about to break out.[5]

What About a Juror's Request for a Transcript Read Back?

For more details on read backs see Rule 26.03: A trial court must consider the ability to produce a transcript (long sections versus short sections), the danger of unfairly highlighting a single section of testimony, and the importance of the requested testimony, whether the jury is deadlocked or close to deadlock and how “fresh” the testimony is (long or short trial - how long ago the jury heard the witness).[6]



References:

  1. MINN. R. EVID. 614(d); State v. Costello, 646 N.W.2d 204, 214-15 (Minn. 2002).
  2. See MINN. R. EVID. 614(d), advisory committee comment--2006; See State v. Crawford, 104 N.W. 822 (1905).
  3. MINN. CIV. TRIALBOOK § 16 (these are only recommendations, and are not grounds for reversal if not followed); See Dang v. St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center, 490 N.W.2d 653, 659 (Minn. Ct. App. 1992).
  4. See State v. Kelly, 517 N.W.2d 905 (Minn. 1994).
  5. See State v. Danforth, 573 N.W.2d 369 (Minn. Ct. App. 1997), rev. denied 2/19/98.
  6. See State v. Daniels, 332 N.W.2d 172 (Minn. 1983); State v. Lane, 582 N.W.2d 256 (Minn. 1998).