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JURY VIEWING SCENE - MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
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JURY VIEWING SCENE

From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges

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


IT IS WITHIN THE TRIAL COURT’S DISCRETION TO ALLOW THE JURY TO VIEW THE CRIME SCENE

Although the practice is rare, it is within the trial court’s discretion to allow the jury to view the crime scene.[1] For criminal trials, the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure state that:

“a. When the court is of the opinion that a viewing by the jury of the place where the offense being tried was committed, or any other place involved in the case, will be helpful to the jury in determining any material factual issue, it may in its discretion, at any time before the closing arguments, order that the jury be conducted to such place.
b. The jury must be kept together during the viewing under the supervision of a proper officer appointed by the court. The judge and a court reporter must be present, and with the judge's permission any other person may be present. The prosecuting attorney, the defendant and defense counsel may as a matter of right be present, but the right may be waived.
c. The purpose of the viewing shall be solely to permit visual observation by the jury of the place in question, and neither the parties, counsel, nor the jurors while viewing the place may engage in discussion concerning the significance or implications of anything under observation or concerning any issue in the case.”[2]

The rules for civil trials are slightly different:

“In a civil case when the court deems it proper that the jury should view real property which is the subject of litigation, or the place where a material fact occurred, it may order them to be taken, in a body and in the custody of proper officers, to the place, which shall be shown to them by the judge, or by a person appointed by the court for that purpose; and while the jurors are thus absent, no one other than the judge or person so appointed shall speak to them on any subject connected with the trial.”[3]

In civil proceedings, “[a] finder of fact may view a site in order to better understand the testimony and evidence” as long as it is clear that the finder of fact did not gather evidence. MT Props., Inc. v. CMC Real Estate Corp., 481 N.W.2d 383, 390 (Minn. App. 1992). But “the granting of a view is in the sound discretion of the [district] court.” Sjodin v. Lund, 277 Minn. 473, 480, 152 N.W.2d 718, 723 (1967).

For both civil and criminal trials, it is important that the judge and the attorneys insure that nobody communicates with the jury about anything relevant to the case during the viewing.[4] A judge should only order a viewing when it would be especially helpful to a jury in understanding the evidence presented in court.[5]




References:

  1. Sjodin v. Lund, 277 Minn. 473, 480, 152 N.W.2d 718, 723 (1967) (civil jury); State v. Gardin, 251 Minn. 157, 163, 86 N.W.2d 711, 715 (1957) (criminal jury); State v. Cooper, Not Reported in N.W.2d, 1996 WL 106199 Minn.App.,1996.(excellent discussion of manner of supervising jury viewing scene).
  2. MINN. R. CRIM. PROC. 26.03, subd. 10
  3. MINN. STAT. § 546.12.
  4. MINN. STAT. § https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=546.12; MINN. R. CRIM. PROC. 26.03, subd. 10
  5. See Huyink v. Hart Publ'ns, Inc., 212 Minn. 87, 92, 2 N.W.2d 552, 554 (1942); Ellingson v. Kratz, No. C4-01-422, 2001 WL 1700715, at *5 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2002) (unpublished).