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234 Pa. Code Rule 647. Request for Instructions, Charge to the Jury, and Preliminary Instructions.

Rule 647. Request for Instructions, Charge to the Jury, and Preliminary Instructions.

 (A)  Before the taking of evidence, the trial judge shall give instructions to the jurors as provided in Rule 626.

 (B)  Any party may submit to the trial judge written requests for instructions to the jury. Such requests shall be submitted within a reasonable time before the closing arguments, and at the same time copies thereof shall be furnished to the other parties. Before closing arguments, the trial judge shall inform the parties on the record of the judge’s rulings on all written requests and which instructions shall be submitted to the jury in writing. The trial judge shall charge the jury after the arguments are completed.

 (C)  No portions of the charge nor omissions from the charge may be assigned as error, unless specific objections are made thereto before the jury retires to deliberate. All such objections shall be made beyond the hearing of the jury.

 (D)  After the jury has retired to consider its verdict, additional or correctional instructions may be given by the trial judge in the presence of all parties, except that the defendant’s absence without cause shall not preclude proceeding, as provided in Rule 602.

 (E)  The trial judge may give any other instructions to the jury before the taking of evidence or at anytime during the trial as the judge deems necessary and appropriate for the jury’s guidance in hearing the case.


   Paragraph (B), amended in 1985, parallels the procedures in many other jurisdictions which require that the trial judge rule on the parties’ written requests for instructions before closing arguments, that the rulings are on the record, and that the judge charge the jury after the closing arguments. See, e.g., Fed.R.Crim.P. 30; ABA Standards on Trial by Jury, Standard 15-3.6; Uniform Rule of Criminal Procedure 523(b).

   Pursuant to Rule 646 (Material Permitted in Possession of the Jury), the judge must determine whether to provide the members of the jury with written copies of the portion of the judge’s charge on the elements of the offenses, lesser included offenses, and any defense upon which the jury has been instructed for use during deliberations.

   Paragraph (A) was added in 2015 to require trial judges to instruct jurors that they are prohibited from using computers or cell phones at trial or during deliberation, and are prohibited from using a computer or other electronic device or any other method to obtain or disclose information about the case when they are not in the courtroom. The amendment prohibits jurors from reading about or listening to news reports about the case and prohibits discussion among jurors until deliberation.

   Paragraph (E), added in 1985, recognizes the value of jury instructions to juror comprehension of the trial process. It is intended that the trial judge determine on a case by case basis whether instructions before the taking of evidence or at anytime during trial are appropriate or necessary to assist the jury in hearing the case. The judge should determine what instructions to give based on the particular case, but at a minimum the preliminary instructions should orient the jurors to the trial procedures and to their duties and function as jurors. In addition, it is suggested that the instructions may include such points as note taking, the elements of the crime charged, presumption of innocence, burden of proof, and credibility. Furthermore, if a specific defense is raised by evidence presented during trial, the judge may want to instruct on the elements of the defense immediately after it is presented to enable the jury to properly evaluate the specific defense. See also Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Criminal Jury Instructions, Chapter II.

   Official Note

   Rule 1119 adopted January 24, 1968, effective August 1, 1968; amended April 23, 1985, effective July 1, 1985; renumbered Rule 647 and amended March 1, 2000, effective April 1, 2001; Comment revised June 30, 2005, effective August 1, 2005; amended October 16, 2009, effective February 1, 2010; amended July 7, 2015, effective October 1, 2015.

   Committee Explanatory Reports:

   Final Report explaining the March 1, 2000 reorganization and renumbering of the rules published with the Court’s Order at 30 Pa.B. 1478 (March 18, 2000).

   Final Report explaining the June 30, 2005 Comment revision concerning the note taking instruction published with the Court’s Order at 35 Pa.B. 3919 (July 16, 2005).

   Final Report explaining the October 16, 2009 changes adding to the Comment a cross-reference to Rule 646 published with the Court’s Order at 39 Pa.B. 6331, 6333 (October 31, 2009).

   Final Report explaining the July 7, 2015 amendment regarding the use of personal communications devices and computers by the jurors published with the Court’s Order at 45 Pa.B. 3985 (July 25, 2015).


   The provisions of this Rule 647 amended June 30, 2005, effective August 1, 2005, 35 Pa.B. 3917; amended October 16, 2009, effective February 1, 2010, 39 Pa.B. 6331; amended July 7, 2015, effective October 1, 2015, 45 Pa.B. 3980. Immediately preceding text appears at serial pages (361899) to (361900).

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