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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

We The Jury: Supreme Court Of Florida Mandates Juror Questioning In Civil Cases, Allows It In Criminal Cases

Pursuant to landmark new rules by the Supreme Court of Florida, (a) judges in civil cases must allow jurors to submit questions for witnesses, and (b) judges in criminal cases have the discretion to allow jurors to pose questions for witnesses.  Under these rules, jurors don't ask these questions to the witnesses themselves; instead, they submit written questions to the judge, who consults with the attorneys about their propriety and determines whether they are relevant and legally permissible.  According to the Court, these new rules are part of the "most comprehensive review and thorough evaluation of Florida's jury system in the history of this state." 

Advocates of the new rules include the American Judicature Society, which has stated that the rules are "based on common sense. Since the trial is a search for truth, and the jurors have to ultimately decide the case, the truth-seeking process is advanced if jurors are able to ask questions about a point that is unclear to them." "Allowing jurors to actively engage may increase their attentiveness. The questions may signal to the lawyers important information about how the jurors are thinking about the case, which may allow the lawyers to present their cases better."

Other have complained that the new rules:

     -will grind the system to a halt as judges and lawyers have to sift through a multitude of both permissible and impermissible questions;

     -create too much of opportunity for mistrials and confusion; and

     -impropely expand upon the juror's role, which is to sit and listen to the evidence and not to participate.

According to judges who have experminted with allowing juror questioning, however, jurors either didn't ask questions when given the chance or submitted few questions.  Based upon this limited data, I would guess that many of the fears expressed about the new rules will not materialize.  At the same time, it seems that the dream that these changes will make the jurors more proactice and attentive may not come to fruition.  That said, I think that with proper educational initiatives, regular application of the rules, and proper oversight, the Florida system might result in a more proactive jury and serve as a model for other states.  I will certainly be looking forward to the results.

-CM  

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