What are the Court’s practices for conducting voir dire?
The Court will generally welcome the jury and ask limited background and scheduling questions. The parties are then afforded the opportunity to conduct their own questioning.
The Court generally does not place a time limit on the parties' questioning, though the Court would politely intervene if time is not being productively used.
Challenges may only be used for prospective jurors actually seated in the box. Consistent with the Rules of Criminal Procedure, the parties are permitted to backstrike.
Does the Court use alternate jurors?
Typically, yes. The Court will generally use one alternate juror for shorter trials and two alternate jurors for multi-day trials lasting more than a couple of days.
As to the method of empaneling alternate jurors, the Court uses the single entity process provided for in Tenn. R. Crim. P. 24(f)(2)(A).
Does the Court permit jurors to take notes and to ask questions during trial?
Consistent with the Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Court permits the jurors to take notes for their own use during trial. At the end of trial, court personnel will collect and destroy all of the notes.
The Court generally does not permit questioning of witnesses by the jury during trial.
Are demonstrative exhibits permitted during opening statements?
Certainly. However, if counsel intends to use demonstrative evidence during opening statements, the Court requests that counsel will confer with opposing counsel before the trial and seek to resolve any issues regarding such evidence.
May the parties discuss the law in opening statements or closing arguments?
“It is the province of the trial judge to state to the jury the law of the case, and it is not always advisable [for] counsel to do so in final argument because of the possibility of error in their summation.” See Smith v. State, 626 S.W.2d 283, 285 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1981).
As such, the parties are free to discuss the Court’s actual instructions on the law with the jury at any time. However, counsel should not otherwise seek to instruct the jury on the law to be applied to the case.
Does the Court place time limits on opening statements or closing arguments?
No, not generally. Experienced lawyers know that jurors may lose focus during longer arguments and that, as such, one may say more by talking less. That said, the Court would politely intervene if the time is not being productively used.
What is the Court’s preference as to how objections are articulated?
The Court discourages “sidebar” conferences in front of the jury, and, as such, the Court would ask counsel to make objections generally from counsel table. In so doing, counsel are requested to phrase objections so as to avoid infecting the trial with possible inadmissible information.
Of course, the Court will certainly hold sidebar conferences when, and if, they are necessary.
What is the Court’s preference on evidentiary matters requiring a jury-out hearing?
If an evidentiary matter requires a hearing outside of the jury’s presence, the Court generally requires the matter to be addressed at the pretrial conference.
Despite it being critical to the Republic, jury service is also a burden to our citizens. As such, so as to avoid inconvenience or burden to our juries, we must all work together to avoid foreseeable and unnecessary delays during trial.
To this end, the standard pretrial order requires the parties to raise, at the pretrial conference, all matters requiring an evidentiary hearing. At the pretrial conference, the Court will either resolve the issues or otherwise schedule a pretrial evidentiary hearing.
If a party knows of an issue requiring an evidentiary hearing outside of the presence of the jury, but does not seek pretrial resolution in accordance with the scheduling order, the Court will find that the issue has been waived. Relief from the waiver may be had only if the interests of justice would so require.
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