Putting The Jury In Charge

The The Illinois Supreme Court is considering allowing jurors to ask questions during civil trials. If you've ever served on a jury, you know that jurors generally just watch and listen. Even though lawyers and judges try to make things clear for the jury, there can be questions and many attorneys are just bad at their job. My initial impression is that this could be a good thing.

The law isn't always clear (in fact I'd say it's usually unclear), especially if you are a juror and just hearing it for the first time. The judge and attorneys are probably familiar with the law in the case, at least more familiar than someone who is not an attorney, and may not realize what parts can be confusing. So allowing the jurors to ask questions can help ensure that the system is working like it should and that jurors are making decisions based on the correct understanding of the law. It seems fair.

Also, it could be good tool for attorneys. Usually, trial attorneys are just guessing at what the jury is thinking. This might give them some insight and allow them to tailor their case or make necessary changes to their strategy. If it's clear the jury doesn't understand a particular point, they can rephrase it or present it in a different way. Accuracy and clarification can't hurt.

I suppose a down side is that this could make trials take longer. The questions aren't just a free for all. The jurors would present questions for approval. My understanding is that questions would first be reviewed by the judge and attorneys. This would give the attorneys a chance to object to the question if they choose to, and then the judge would rule on any objection. If the question is accepted, the judge or one of the attorneys would read the question and address it or answer it in front of the jury. So obviously, there is an extra process to go through and it will take time. But ultimately, if the jurors need clarification, it's probably a good idea. And who knows, it could make jury duty more interesting.


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