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Judge Denies Request to Reread Yanez Testimony, Jury Continues Deliberations

Recall that last year in Minnesota, officer Jeronimo Yanez killed Philando Castile, who was sitting on the passenger side in the front seat of a car driven by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, whose cell phone video of the killing was on network TV news. At the time the incident had a high enough profile that President Obama commented on it for probably all of a minute at a press conference.

Jury deliberations in the case began this past Monday. On Friday morning (yesterday, the 16th) jurors asked the judge to have officer Yanez's testimony re-read to them. The judge denied the request. When I heard about that, I thought that any uncertainty about what Yanez had said on the stand could be considered an occasion for reasonable doubt. Late Friday, the jury came back with a not-guilty verdict.

Why would a judge grant or deny such a request?

  • More specifically, the judge denied the request to re-read the testimony from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension interview, which is not trial testimony. – user6726 Jun 17 '17 at 17:08
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    @user6726 : Isn't that a separate matter? This article says "The jury asked to have all of Yanez’s testimony reread". Yanez in fact testified at the trial. – Michael Hardy Jun 17 '17 at 17:52
  • I understand why the judge would not read from an interview that was not introduced as evidence at the trial, but this was about testimony at the trial. – Michael Hardy Jun 17 '17 at 17:54
  • The article says "On Tuesday, they re-watched the dashcam video from Yanez’s squad car and Reynolds’ Facebook Live video, but the judge denied their request to review the transcript of Yanez’s interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension." That's on TUESDAY. It was on FRIDAY (yesterday morning) that they asked the judge to read them Yanez's testimony, which they had heard. The judge denied the request. – Michael Hardy Jun 17 '17 at 17:56
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The judge's instructions state:

You have been allowed to take notes during the trial. You may take those notes with you to the jury room. You should not consider these notes binding or conclusive, whether they are your notes or those of another juror. The notes should be used as an aid to your memory and not as a substitute for it. It is your recollection of the evidence that should control. You should disregard anything contrary to your recollection that may appear from your own notes or those of another juror. You should not give greater weight to a particular piece of evidence solely because it is referred to in a note taken by a juror.

There is a pattern instruction in Washington that addresses requests to rehear testimony:

In making this decision, I want to emphasize that I am making no comment on the value or weight to be given to any particular testimony in this case. The testimony you requested will be [read to you] [replayed for you] here in the courtroom. You will hear it only one time. After you have heard the testimony, you will return to the jury room and resume your deliberations. When you do, remember that your deliberations must take into account all the evidence in the case, not just the testimony that you have asked to rehear.

The notes on use state "Although judges have discretion in responding to these requests, the case law disfavors repeating trial testimony for deliberating jurors", followed by the state of the relevant case law. The central point in that discussion is:

The concern addressed in the case law is that rereading requested selections from a trial transcript can lead jurors to give undue emphasis to the selected testimony.

and

an additional concern is that reading the trial transcript selections to the jurors could constitute an unconstitutional comment on the evidence.

and finally

jurors often request the testimony of a single witness rather than requesting balanced testimony from multiple witnesses that more accurately reflects the positions taken by both parties. If the judge grants such a limited request, then one party's version of the case might be unduly emphasized, yet if the judge expands on the request by repeating the requested testimony along with other relevant testimony, then the judge runs the risk of improperly commenting on the evidence.

Minnesota criminal procedure rule 26 Subd. 20(2) addresses the matter of rehearing evidence, saying that the court can allow a hearing of specific evidence:

(a) If the jury requests review of specific evidence during deliberations, the court may permit review of that evidence after notice to the parties and an opportunity to be heard.

(b) Any jury review of depositions, or audio or video material, must occur in open court. The court must instruct the jury to suspend deliberations during the review.

(c) The prosecutor, defense counsel, and the defendant must be present for the proceedings described in paragraphs (a) and (b), but the defendant may personally waive the right to be present.

(d) The court need not submit evidence beyond what the jury requested but may submit additional evidence on the same issue to avoid giving undue prominence to the requested evidence.

This rule where judges have discretion is a change from an earlier rule where judges had an obligation to allow rehearing. When there is no obligation to allow rehearing, the "safer" path is to not allow rehearing.

In State v. McDaniels, 332 N.W.2d 172, the appeals court notes that

The judge reasoned that to read the requested portions of the two police officers' testimony would give undue prominence to that portion of the evidence. The prosecutor argued that three or four other witnesses had testified regarding Fifth and Royalston. The testimony was widely scattered throughout the transcript between direct and cross-examination. To locate all references would be burdensome and impractical

thus reflecting the reasoning underlying the Washington instruction.

In State v. Rean, 421 N.W.2d 303, 306 (Minn. 1988), the court turned down a request to rehear testimony, saying "You will have to rely on your memory of the testimony". The Supreme Court concludes that "To avoid giving undue prominence to the testimony requested, and in light of the difficulty of providing all relevant testimony, the jury's request was rejected". It then observes that "Simply because the jury apparently felt that it was at an impasse did not mean that the trial court was obligated to grant the jury's requests". The court rejected "the wooden approach of always granting a request, even an unreasonable one, if the jury says it is at an impasse"

We do not know what objections the prosecution and defense raised regarding the request to rehear, but if one side would likely benefit from a rehearing, the other side is entitled to a "balancing" rehearing (the rules allow the jury to be directed to consider testimony that they did not request a rehearing of); and tit might have been onerous to assemble that evidence.

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