When both sides to a criminal case finish presenting evidence, questioning the other side’s witnesses and making their arguments, the jury goes into the jury room to deliberate and try to reach a verdict. They use their memories of and notes from the testimony, the law that is read to them by the judge and any exhibits that were entered during the criminal trial. Sometimes, a jury wants to re-hear specific testimony that was elicited during the trial. Is the judge allowed to get a transcript of the witness’ testimony and read it back to the jury or let the jury take the transcript with them into the jury room in a criminal case?
In a recent gun and drug case near Jacksonville, Florida, the jury asked the judge if he could read a transcript of a police witness’ testimony back to them. The criminal defense lawyer agreed as long as the judge read back all of the detective’s testimony including the parts where the criminal defense attorney was cross-examining the detective. The judge did it a different way. The judge allowed the jury to decide what parts of the detective’s testimony they wanted to hear. The jury was only interested in hearing the testimony elicited by the state without hearing some of the testimony that would likely be beneficial to the defendant. The criminal defense lawyer objected to reading just a part of the detective’s testimony, but he was overruled.
In Florida criminal cases, the judge is allowed to read back certain testimony of witnesses when the jury makes the request. The judge has discretion to make this determination. The judge is also allowed to read back just a part of the witness’ testimony if that is what the jury is requesting. However, the judge may not read back a part of a witness’ testimony if it would be misleading and the criminal defense lawyer’s cross-examination of the witness is within the scope of the jury’s request. The judge may not read back partial testimony to a jury that would bolster one side’s version of the case if there is relevant cross- examination on the matter.
In this case, the judge’s action resulted in a reversal of the conviction on gun and drug charges forcing a new trial. The judge’s limitation on the re-read testimony that left out the criminal defense attorney’s cross-examination placed undue emphasis on the state’s version of the case which was a serious enough error to necessitate a new trial.