Unless otherwise indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.
Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court
Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
State v. Jenkins, No. M2022-00693-CCA-R3-CD, p. 24 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 8, 2023).
This Court reviews a trial court’s decision to send exhibits to the jury room under an abuse of discretion standard. State v. Davidson, 509 S.W.3d 156, 202 (Tenn. 2016) (citing State v. Smith, 993 S.W.2d 6, 32 (Tenn. 1999); State v. Jenkins, 845 S.W.2d 787, 793 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1992)). Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 30.1 provides that “[u]nless for good cause the court determines otherwise, the jury shall take to the jury room for examination during deliberations all exhibits and writings, except depositions, that have been received in evidence.” The Advisory Commission Comments to Rule 30.1 state that the rule “changes the long-standing practice in Tennessee of not allowing the jury in criminal cases to take the exhibits to the jury room for their study and examination during deliberations.” Id., advisory comm’n cmts.
State v. Johnson, No. W2022-00425-CCA-R3-CD, p. 36-37 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 24, 2023).
A trial court’s decision to allow a deliberating jury to examine exhibits is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard of review. State v. Davidson, 509 S.W.3d 156, 203 (Tenn. 2016); see State v. Smith, 993 S.W.2d 6, 32 (Tenn. 1999). In State v. Jenkins, 845 S.W.2d 787, 793 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 17, 1992), this court stated:
We believe that the decision to allow a jury to review any evidence submitted at trial, whether it be an exhibit or testimony, should be left within the discretion of the trial court as limited by ABA Standard 15–4.2 in its entirety. The full standard is as follows:
(a) If the jury, after retiring for deliberation, requests a review of certain testimony or other evidence, they shall be conducted to the courtroom. Whenever the jury’s request is reasonable, the court, after notice to the prosecutor and counsel for the defense, shall have the requested parts of the testimony read to the jury and shall permit the jury to reexamine the requested materials admitted into evidence.
(b) The court need not submit evidence to the jury for review beyond that specifically requested by the jury, but in its discretion the court may also have the jury review other evidence relating to the same factual issue so as not to give undue prominence to the evidence requested.
Under this standard the trial court would have the discretion to take such action as necessary, including denying the jury’s request, to insure that the jury’s determination of a factual issue would not be distorted by undue emphasis on particular evidence.