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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Macomb tests jury reform

The Michigan Supreme Court is debating whether to change how juries operate during trials -- and some Macomb County residents will be among the first to test the proposed rules.

For the next 14 months, jurors in Circuit Judge David Viviano's courtroom could be allowed to discuss the trial with each other before the case wraps up. And they'll be encouraged to submit questions to the judge in writing before a witness is excused.

The changes are part of a potentially statewide jury reform that aims to make jurors' jobs easier to understand.

"It's sort of to address human nature," Viviano said. "We tell people they can't talk to anyone -- not their spouses, not even the people they're serving with on the jury -- about the case while it's happening. That's counterintuitive to human nature."

Viviano is one of 12 judges across the state whose courtrooms have adopted the rules for the trial run that began at the end of August.

Among the proposed changes:

• Jurors will be given binders with the legal instructions that the judge typically only gives orally.

• Jurors will each get copies of documents that were entered into evidence.

• Experts testifying for the defense or prosecution in either civil or criminal cases could be called back-to-back so that jurors can hear all of the technical testimony at once. Or Viviano could opt for the experts to basically debate each other, having both of them answer questions from either the judge or a moderator.

• Viviano also could choose to summarize the case for the jury, which could include pointing out the weaknesses in both sides' arguments.

Viviano said the latter change concerns him the most because his summary would be subjective, possibly opening the door for an appeal if he's slanted too much toward one side. [Mark Godsey]

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