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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Jury Questions

I just got off of a short jury duty stint yesterday. I've been on juries before, and have always found it an interesting experience.  This time was no different.  The case itself wasn't especially interesting -- though as a civil suit involving sophisticated parties suing over a lot of money involving interpretation of an incredibly poorly-written, one-page contract, it was an interesting lesson in how even sophisticated people make elementary mistakes. 

But I learned something even more interesting.  Before the opening statements, the judge explained the basics of the trial process.  As part of that explanation, she told us that she allowed jury questions.  Not major ones -- from what I could understand from her instructions, she didn't mean the type of questions that suggested a particular substantive theory of the case.  The questions she meant were more explanatory -- for example, if the witnesses used a term that the jury didn't understand.  She also explained that she would vet the question with the lawyers before okaying its entry (and the witness's answer) into the record.

Even with those limitations and caveats, is this normal?  I can see the logic, but it doesn't jibe with (very rudimentary) knowledge of trial procedure.  Are these types of deviations from the norm, well, normal?


Posted by Bill Araiza on May 10, 2012 at 03:48 PM in Civil Procedure | Permalink


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I taught in Malta this past Summer. They not only allow juror questions, they actively encourage them, and thibnk our system unfathomable for not doing likewise.

Posted by: Ken Klein | May 14, 2012 1:13:34 PM

I don't think this is widespread, but some judges (including mine) have experimented with it, in light of the Seventh Circuit report mentioned above.

Posted by: D. Ct. Clerk | May 10, 2012 5:33:24 PM

According to the press release connected with the recent codification of a procedure for jury questioning in civil cases in Illinois, "[t]he rule is not unique to Illinois. More than half of all the states and all of the federal circuits permit jurors to submit written questions for witnesses with or without the discretion of the trial judge, said proponents of the measure."


Posted by: Colin Miller | May 10, 2012 5:20:01 PM

This issue came up in my civpro class and I looked into it a little. Some states allow jury questions as a matter of course (an example being Florida ). I'm not sure how many, though, and within what parameters.

Posted by: jonah gelbach | May 10, 2012 4:26:46 PM

Several years ago, the Seventh Circuit experimented with a pilot program testing various jury reforms (including allowing juror questions). The results appeared favorable (83% of jurors reporting increased understanding, and a majority of judges and lawyers likewise reporting increased juror understanding with no decrease in effeciency), and the pilot program commission recommended use of juror questions in future trials. Whether this recommendation was widely adopted or not, I don't know.

See generally http://apps.americanbar.org/litigation/litigationnews/top_stories/article-jury-project.html

Posted by: Former Chicago Lawyer | May 10, 2012 4:25:00 PM

Increasingly so, as is note taking.

Posted by: shg | May 10, 2012 4:01:21 PM

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