Jan 7

Questions from the Jury

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If you watch the CBS show The Good Wife, you may have noticed the recent episode where the jurors were allowed to ask questions during the trial. They wrote questions on scraps of paper and the judge relayed them to the witness.

Though this is not allowed in Minnesota (“Jurors shall not be permitted to submit questions to any witness, directly or through the court or counsel.” Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.03, subdiv. 15) and a few other States, it is left up to the judge’s discretion in most, and jurors have a right to question witnesses in a couple (“jurors, including alternates, may seek to ask questions of the witnesses by submission of questions in writing,” see Indiana Jury Rules, Rule 20(a)(7)).

An article out of Arizona describes one such trial wherein jurors were permitted to submit questions to a witness (https://azstarnet.com/news/local/article_c3c684dc-f816-512e-b4cb-a5814300f65e.html). When the witness was done being examined by the attorneys, the jurors were allowed to submit their own questions in writing. Once the questions were collected, the judge and attorneys would go through them and they would be posed to the witness so long as a Rule of Evidence did not prohibit its being asked, it was relevant, and it was posed to the correct witness. The article included reactions from those involved in the process. Some of the concerns included whether the jury would understand why a particular question was chosen or not chosen to be asked and if the jury would focus on that rather than the testimony. But far more benefits than drawbacks were noted in the article: the attorneys and judge knew which jurors were paying attention, jurors asked questions the attorneys forgot or would not ask out of fear of meeting an objection, and jurors are less passive during the process.

There is a lot written about the pros and cons of juror questions and there are a plethora of points on both sides. Though this is not allowed in Minnesota (yet), it may one day, and it is something to think about and prepare for—is it helpful or harmful for trials? Only time will tell.