View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, February 25, 2003
In another legal development, the Rocky reports that, under very limited circumstances, juries in criminal cases will be allowed to ask questions of witnesses. They already could in civil cases. This is not as radical a development as I had thought. Evidently, most states allow questions in civil cases, but the article only lists Arizona as allowing juror questions in cirminal trials.

The DAs seem to be in favor, the defense attorneys against. The reports seems to undermine defense fears that juries will talk themselves into a conviction. First of all, most juries, from people I've talked to, take their work seriously. If they don't habitually get wedded to their own theories in the deliberation room, why would they do so just because they can ask written, judge-approved questions in court? Secondly, the jurors in some high-profile cases that were quoted seem to display an appropriate respect for the ability of the attorneys to present the evidence. I doubt they're going to jump in and start advocating openly there in court, unless one side has a major problem with its case. On the whole, this seems like a positive development.

The article did mention that most juries in the 35 states that allow questions in civil trials don't know they're allowed to ask questions. This needs to be remedied. Juries need to be informed clearly of this fact, and the procedural rules surrounding it, as the trial starts. This isn't a question of telling them about "jury nullification," controversial about 10 years back. The attorneys probably hate it, and most judges probably are suspicious of it. But the legal system, after all, is for us, not them.

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