Along these lines, the New York Personal Injury Law Blog recently had this guest post by Peter DeFillipis that supporting allowing jurors to ask questions in trial.
The post states in part:
I think this process insures that the jury is better informed and makes its decisions based more likely on facts gleaned from testimony under an oath than on conjecture. The individual juror is presumably happier and more satisfied if inquiries are answered via live testimony as opposed to not at all or by speculation in the deliberation room (which is frowned upon by the court). Keeping jurors interested and engaged through this active participation in the legal process is of paramount benefit to the litigants and jurists. Perhaps it might increase attentiveness and help to mitigate the tedium and boredom often complained of in connection with serving as a juror on a trial (especially a lengthy one).
Hearing from the jurors in this manner also helps the attorneys to gain some insight into the jurors’ thoughts and hints of major concerns with the case. Savvy lawyers may alter the presentation of their side based on the questions they are receiving and cover missing areas. This may also head off jury confusion which often leads to unnecessarily lengthy deliberations or inconsistent verdicts. A definite plus is the insight gained by everyone involved from learning some of what is in the jurors’ minds before they make their ultimate decision.
I agree that jurors should be permitted to ask questions. My favorite jury reform is instructing the jury before the evidence is presented.
I also think we need to do a better job explaining to jurors what they can and cannot consider in deliberations. Here’s a real life example of why, based on a recent story from a client.
The client was serving on a federal court jury in an auto accident case. I asked her what they based their decision on. Basically, the jury ruled for the defendant based on jury room accident reconstruction calculations and testimony by a fellow juror.
This juror was not an accident reconstructionist, and his job did not suggest any of his self-proclaimed expertise in physics. But like the guy who stayed at the Holiday Inn Express last night, this juror inserted evidence based on his personal experience–or lack of–into the deliberations.
If you think this is uncommon, my response is that you should conduct some focus groups where you let the panel deliberate. Based on my experience with focus groups, this kind of thing is very common.
I actually think much of this could be stopped with proper instruction and emphasis to jurors. Sometimes I wonder if in our eagerness to get the finality of a verdict, we aren’t concerned enough about whether juries are properly reaching their verdicts.