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MANAGING THE JURY - MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
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MANAGING THE JURY

From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges

Managing the jury is an important and challenging responsibility of the trial judge. Jury management begins when the pool of potential jurors enters the court room. Courts throughout the country have recognized that giving potential jurors and selected jurors more information earlier in the process contributes to jurors doing a better job and feeling more satisfied about their jury service. Early instruction about how the trial will proceed, instructions as to appropriate behavior, inappropriate behavior, the procedural course of the trial, and the anticipated time frame.

While preliminary instructions will make things go smoother, they will not head off all problems. Issues like curative instructions,===A. Schedule===

B. Beverages

Jurors should be allowed to bring beverages into the courtroom. If attorneys and the judge have water available to them, so should jurors. Some judges limit jurors beverages to water or any type of beverage if it is in a container with a top on it.

C. Communication

1. Once jury selection begins the members of the jury pool should be given a specific method of contacting a member of the judge's staff if they will be late or not able to attend a subsequent session of the trial. The jurors in the pool should be given a business card of a court staff member that has the telephone number and e-mail address of a person who will respond to their communication. Once the jury is selected this information should be given again to the members of the jury. 2. Jurors should also be given a specific communication method, such as raising your hand, if a juror has a problem or when they are in the jury box. Jurors may have bathroom, medication or other health needs and concerns that they need to respond to quickly, giving the jurors a specific communication dynamic will make the jurors more comfortable communicating such a need in the middle of testimony.

D. ACKNOWLEDGING THE JURY PRESENCE ONCE THE TRIAL COMMENCES

Judges should greet the jury at the beginning of the proceedings each day and at the recommencement of the trial after the noon lunch break. Judges should inform the jurors that they should let him or her know if they can not see or hear a witness. Judges should inquire of the jurors at the beginning of the trial if any of them have transportation, family or other conflicts or demands that the judge should know about. Such information will help the judge determine start and stop time of testimony. Judge should inquire of the jurors if any of them have back or other physical problems that limit how long they can sit. Once such problems are identified, such jurors should be allowed to sit in the back row and given permission to stand during testimony.


E. Juror Notes

Notepads are typically provided to jurors to allow them to take notes. Jurors are not required to take notes, and it would be inappropriate for a judge or counsel to comment on whether or not a juror took notes. Judges may, however, tell jurors not to let their note-taking get in the way of listening to the proceedings.

At the conclusion of every day of a trial, the judge should instruct the jurors to leave their notepads on their chairs. They cannot take them home. Only once the trial is complete can jurors take their notes into the jury room. At that point the judge can gently counsel jurors that they should not necessarily interpret what they took notes on as the most important evidence they were presented with.

F. Bench Conferences

Click on BENCH CONFERENCES

G. Dealing with Inattentive Jurors

Recommendations

  • Invite jurors to stand and stretch (briefly) whenever the lawyers are allowed to approach for a bench conference
  • Ask the jury if they can see and hear everything that is going on, and ask if there is anything that could be done to make seeing, hearing easier

1. What if a juror falls asleep?

Click on SLEEPING JUROR There are many ways to handle this - ranging from the most abrupt, to the most gentle. The following are used by judges on a regular basis:

  • Excuse yourself momentarily on the pretext of attending to something in chambers, allowing the jury to take a "seventh inning stretch" in your absence
  • Invite the jury to stretch (hoping that another juror will nudge the sleeping one)
  • Ask that one of the jurors gentle nudge the sleeping juror

Consequence of a juror falling asleep

It is important to determine how long a juror has been asleep for. If it has been for a substantial period, the juror is subject to automatic replacement.

If the criminal defendant through counsel requests the juror be replaced with an alternate the court is required to comply.