Rule 43A.03: Juror Questions of Witnesses.



In the court’s discretion, a juror desiring to propound a question to a witness may be permitted to do so. The juror must put the question in written form and submit it to the judge through a court officer at the end of a witness' testimony. The judge shall review all such questions and, outside the hearing of the jury, shall consult the parties about whether the question should be propounded. The judge, in his or her discretion, may ask the juror's question in whole or part and may change the wording of the juror's question before propounding it to the witness. The judge may permit counsel to ask the question in its original or amended form in whole or part, in the judge’s discretion. When juror questions are permitted, early in the trial jurors shall be instructed about the mechanics of asking a question. In addition, the jurors shall be instructed to give no meaning to the fact that the judge chose not to ask a question or altered the wording of a question submitted by a juror. A juror’s question shall be anonymous, so that the juror's name is not included in the question. All jurors' questions, whether approved or disapproved by the court, shall be retained for the record. [Added effective July 1, 2003.]

Advisory Commission Comment [2003]

This new rule adds three procedures designed to assist jurors in the effective performance of their important functions.

Rule 43A.01 specifically states that jurors are allowed to take notes during the trial and to use those notes during deliberations. The court is to provide the necessary materials and to collect and destroy the notes at the end of the trial. The premise of this rule is that jurors, like judges and lawyers, may find it helpful to take notes during the trial in order to assist in remembering the evidence.

Rule 43A.02 authorizes the court, in its discretion, to provide jurors with notebooks to use in collecting and organizing the various materials presented to the jury. The notebook might include such items as jury instructions, copies of exhibits (photographs, charts, etc.), basic definitions of words used in the trial, and any other appropriate materials.

The court is given the discretion whether to use notebooks. The court might want to ask counsel to assist in the preparation of the notebooks. The content and financial aspects of the notebooks might be discussed and resolved during pretrial conference. After the trial, the court may collect the notebooks and destroy any contents that will not be used again, although the exact disposition is left to the court’s discretion.

Rule 43A.03 gives the court the discretion to allow jurors to ask questions of witnesses. This rule is designed to assist jurors in their understanding of evidence and to make them feel more involved in the trial process. The procedure in this rule should ensure that improper questions are not propounded to witnesses. After a witness has completed testimony, a juror desiring to ask a question must submit that question in writing to a court officer who will give it to the judge. The question shall be submitted without identifying the juror who asked it. The judge then screens the question. Counsel shall be invited to comment on the propriety of the question out of the hearing of the jury. The court is given the discretion to reject or ask the question in whole or in part, to rephrase it, and to have counsel ask the question of the witness. If necessary, the court may accompany the question or the rejection of the question with appropriate jury instructions. All questions are to be retained for the record.

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