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RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald
R.I. R. EVID. 614: Calling and Interrogation of Witnesses by the Court
State v. Phommachak, 674 A.2d 382 (R.I. 1996). “The authority of the trial justice to interrogate a witness extends to any ‘relevant matters proper to be presented to the jury’ in furtherance of justice. However, the trial justice must proceed ‘with caution’ in such an examination. He or she must also ‘guard against even the appearance of changing his [or her] position from that of a judicial officer impartially presiding at the trial to that of a partisan advocate interested in establishing the position of either party.’ The trial justice ‘should not be led to express by language, or the tones of his [or her] voice, or in any other manner his [or her] opinion as to the credibility of the witness or the weight which should be given to his testimony. His [or her] examination is to be governed by the same rules as those which govern counsel and his [or her] questions are equally open to exception.’” [Citations Omitted.]
State v. Nelson, 982 A.2d 602 (R.I. 2009). Trial justice exceeded the scope of judicial interrogation when questioning two state witnesses at defendant’s trial for DUI resulting in serious bodily injury. R.I.S.C. vacated and remanded for a new trial, holding that both interrogations were prejudicial and too inflammatory to be remedied with a curative instruction.
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