Advisory Commission Comments to Rules 43A.01-43A.03

Advisory Commission Comments

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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