After the heavy lifting of a jury trial is over the real work begins. Waiting for the verdict. If you are like me, any time the phone rings your stomach turns with anticipation that the Court may be calling to say the jury has reached its verdict. When you look at caller ID to see the Court’s number displayed the anticipation builds even more. But sometimes, the relief you get is not learning of the jury’s verdict. Rather, the Court is calling to tell you that the jury has asked a question.
What now? In Nebraska, section 25-1116 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes mandates that responses should be “in the presence of counsel or after notice to the parties or their counsel.” The call from the Court has satisfied the statute. Now there is basically a discussion between the Court and counsel as to how to respond. The goal remains the same as the original instruction conference; to properly instruct the jury on the law. In my experience, the response is often to direct the jury back to an instruction that has already been given. On occasion, further instruction is warranted. When that happens, make sure to make a record of any objection you may have. You should also make sure that the supplemental instruction which answers the questions becomes a part of the record.