Thursday, April 5, 2012
Last year, I posted an entry about Illinois considering codifying a a procedure for jury questioning during civil trials. That proposal will soon become a reality. Effective July 1, 2012, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 243 will take effect:
Rule 243. Written Juror Questions Directed to Witnesses
(a) Questions Permitted. The court may permit jurors in civil cases to submit to the court written questions directed to witnesses.
(b) Procedure. Following the conclusion of questioning by counsel, the court shall determine whether the jury will be afforded the opportunity to question the witness. Regarding each witness for whom the court determines questions by jurors are appropriate, the jury shall be asked to submit any question they have for the witness in writing. No discussion regarding the questions shall be allowed between jurors at this time; neither shall jurors be limited to posing a single question nor shall jurors be required to submit questions. The bailiff will then collect any questions and present the questions to the judge. Questions will be marked as exhibits and made a part of the record.
(c) Objections. Out of the presence of the jury, the judge will read the question to all counsel, allow counsel to see the written question, and give counsel an opportunity to object to the question. If any objections are made, the court will rule upon them at that time and the question will be either admitted, modified, or excluded accordingly.
(d) Questioning of the Witness. The court shall instruct the witness to answer only the question presented, and not exceed the scope of the question. The court will ask each question; the court will then provide all counsel with an opportunity to ask follow-up questions limited to the scope of the new testimony.
(e) Admonishment to Jurors. At times before or during the trial that it deems appropriate, the court shall advise the jurors that they shall not concern themselves with the reason for the exclusion or modification of any question submitted and that such measures are taken by the court in accordance with the rules of evidence that govern the case.
According to the Committee Comments,
This rule gives the trial judge discretion in civil cases to permit jurors to submit written questions to be directed to witnesses ̄a procedure which has been used in other jurisdictions to improve juror comprehension, attention to the proceedings, and satisfaction with jury service. The trial judge may discuss with the parties’ attorneys whether the procedure will be helpful in the case, but the decision whether to use the procedure rests entirely with the trial judge. The rule specifies some of the procedures the trial judge must follow, but it leaves other details to the trial judge’s discretion.
According to the press release accompanying passage of the new rule,
The rule is not unique to Illinois. More than half of all the states and all of the federal circuits permit jurors to submit written questions for witnesses with or without the discretion of the trial judge, said proponents of the measure.
That press release also details exactly how the rule will work:
The procedure will work this way: At the conclusion of questioning of a witness by attorneys, the trial judge will determine whether the jury will be afforded the opportunity to question the witness. If questions are deemed appropriate by the trial judge, jurors will be asked to submit any question they have for the witness in writing. No discussion regarding the questions is allowed between jurors. The bailiff will collect any questions and present them to the judge who will mark them as exhibits and make them part of the record.
The judge will read the questions to all the attorneys outside the presence of the jury, and give counsel an opportunity to object to the question. The trial judge will rule on any objections and the questions will either be admitted, modified or excluded.
The trial judge will ask each question that is permitted and will instruct the witness to answer only the question presented. The judge will then provide all counsel with an opportunity to ask follow-up questions limited to the scope of the new testimony.
I've written before about the reasons why I support jury questioning, and I think that Illinois is making the right emove by allowing it.