(a) Calling. The court may call a witness on its own or at a party’s request. Each party is entitled to cross-examine the witness.
(b) Examining. The court may examine a witness regardless of who calls the witness.
(c) Objections. A party may object to the court’s calling or examining a witness either at that time or at the next opportunity when the jury is not present.
Summary and Explanation
Federal Rule of Evidence 614 addresses the court’s involvement in questioning witnesses and calling its own witnesses during a trial. Here’s a summary and explanation:
- Court’s Calling of Witnesses: Under Rule 614(a), the court has the discretion to call its own witnesses. This can be done to clarify points or obtain additional evidence that the parties have not presented.
- Court’s Examination of Witnesses: Rule 614(b) allows the judge to question witnesses directly. This is done to ensure a clear understanding of the facts, help clarify witness testimony, or probe issues that may have been inadequately explored by the attorneys.
- Objections: Rule 614(c) provides that parties in the case have the right to object to the court’s calling or questioning of witnesses. However, these objections must be made outside the jury’s presence, typically by asking for a sidebar or in chambers, to prevent influencing the jury.
- Balancing Role: The rule is designed to balance the judge’s role as an impartial arbiter and the need to seek truth and clarity in proceedings. While judges generally refrain from taking an overly active role in examining witnesses to maintain impartiality, they do have this authority when deemed necessary for justice.
Rule 614 reflects the principle that the primary goal of a trial is to discover the truth. By allowing judges to call and question witnesses, the rule seeks to ensure that all relevant facts are thoroughly examined and understood. However, it also safeguards against potential overreach by the judge by allowing objections to such actions.
(Pub. L. 93–595, §1, Jan. 2, 1975, 88 Stat. 1937; Apr. 26, 2011, eff. Dec. 1, 2011.)
Notes of Advisory Committee on Proposed Rules
Subdivision (a). While exercised more frequently in criminal than in civil cases, the authority of the judge to call witnesses is well established. McCormick §8, p. 14; Maguire, Weinstein, et al., Cases on Evidence 303–304 (5th ed. 1965); 9 Wigmore §2484. One reason for the practice, the old rule against impeaching one’s own witness, no longer exists by virtue of Rule 607, supra. Other reasons remain, however, to justify the continuation of the practice of calling court’s witnesses. The right to cross-examine, with all it implies, is assured. The tendency of juries to associate a witness with the party calling him, regardless of technical aspects of vouching, is avoided. And the judge is not imprisoned within the case as made by the parties.
Subdivision (b). The authority of the judge to question witnesses is also well established. McCormick §8, pp. 12–13; Maguire, Weinstein, et al., Cases on Evidence 737–739 (5th ed. 1965); 3 Wigmore §784. The authority is, of course, abused when the judge abandons his proper role and assumes that of advocate, but the manner in which interrogation should be conducted and the proper extent of its exercise are not susceptible of formulation in a rule. The omission in no sense precludes courts of review from continuing to reverse for abuse.
Subdivision (c). The provision relating to objections is designed to relieve counsel of the embarrassment attendant upon objecting to questions by the judge in the presence of the jury, while at the same time assuring that objections are made in apt time to afford the opportunity to take possible corrective measures. Compare the “automatic” objection feature of Rule 605 when the judge is called as a witness.
Committee Notes on Rules—2011 Amendment
The language of Rule 614 has been amended as part of the restyling of the Evidence Rules to make them more easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes are intended to be stylistic only. There is no intent to change any result in any ruling on evidence admissibility.