Rule 51. Instructions to Jury. Objection

Advisory Commission Comments to Rules 51.01-51.04

Advisory Commission Comments

51.01: This Rule leaves the timing of the submission of requests to the discretion of the trial judge, and it eliminates the common-law rule that such requests may only be received at the conclusion of the general charge. Gilreath, History of a Lawsuit, § 368 (8th ed. 1963).

51.02: This Rule is the opposite of the Federal Rule insofar as requiring counsel to state objections to the charge at trial. The Committee felt that the Federal Rule places too great a burden on trial counsel and fails to take into account the difficulties of stating objections accurately after merely hearing a charge without opportunity to see a transcript of it. The Committee felt that the trial judge has the duty to charge the jury accurately, and the parties litigant should not be deprived of an opportunity to seek a new trial because of an inaccurate charge merely because counsel did not make an oral objection at the trial; such errors in the charge should be available as grounds for relief on motion for new trial or on appeal, subject to the rules regarding harmless error.

Advisory Commission Comment [2003]

The deleted language of Rule 51.01 delaying final jury instructions until after arguments to the jury has been replaced by the addition of Rule 51.03(2).

New Rule 51.03 deals with the timing of jury instructions. Rule 51.03(1) requires the court to give basic instructions on procedures and law at the beginning of the trial. This requirement should better enable jurors to understand the evidence and apply the proof to the applicable law. With this background, jurors will be able to put the proof in the context of the legal rules involved in the dispute.

Rule 51.03(2) provides the court the option of giving the bulk of the final jury instructions before closing argument. This procedure may improve the utility of counsel’s closing argument by enabling the lawyers to make specific reference to the law at issue in the case. This option should greatly assist jurors in their efforts to apply the facts to the law. If such instructions are given before closing argument, the court should provide additional housekeeping instructions after that argument. The court may also repeat some of the substantive instructions already given before the closing argument.

Advisory Commission Comment [2009]

Revised Rule 51.04 gives any party the right to require the jury charge to be reduced to writing and given the jury. The new language incorporates T.C.A. § 20-9-501.


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