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Should Jurors Get to Ask More Questions?

The stereotype is deeply embedded in our minds and media when it comes to jury trials: the jurors sit passively, perhaps nodding or even crying in response, as the attorneys, witnesses, and judges battle before them, then retire to a room to argue about a defendant's freedom or the fate of millions of dollars. They are instructed to decide the case based only on what they have seen and heard in the courtroom, but have little or no input on the evidence.

But that might be starting to change. More and more jury reform advocates -- judges among them -- have been pushing for more juror freedom when it comes to asking questions during trial. Could we be witnessing the end to the static, silent jury and see more juror involvement during the course of the trial?

Hear No Questions

As it stands now, most state and federal courts prohibit juror questions to witnesses, outside of special or extreme circumstances. The idea is that it is the attorneys' job to present evidence and extract witness testimony, and the jurors' job to render a verdict based on that evidence. The fear with allowing too many juror questions, especially directly to witnesses and parties to the case, is that jurors would themselves become advocates for one side or the other or make up their minds too early in the case, before hearing all of the evidence.

See No (Outside) Evidence

One of the main arguments pushing for more juror questions involves the ban on jurors conducting outside research on the case, through news sources, internet searches, or social media. Despite being ordered to not access these sources and decide the case solely based on the evidence presented, many jurors disregard this instruction, risking a mistrial and wasted time and resources. If jurors were to get these questions answered in court, the thinking goes, they would be less prone to conduct outside research.

Speak No Verdict

Others have advocated that, by allowed more juror involvement during the trial, you can get more well-reasoned jury verdicts. As civil and criminal trials become longer and more complex, jurors are asked to sit, indifferent and mute, through days, weeks, and even months of arcane and esoteric proceedings, then issue verdicts that could cost defendants millions or their lives. More involvement in the trial itself, with more questions posed to witnesses and the judge, could lead to more attentiveness during the proceedings and more diligence and care when rendering a verdict.

Perhaps a more informed jury is a better jury.

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