QUESTIONS?

Every once in a while, I see a judge invite the jury to ask questions of the witness after the lawyers are through.  This is a rare but legal opportunity for jurors to find out more than was presented to them, and to clear up any confusion.  It helps the lawyers see where the gaps are in their presentations.  One seasoned lawyer joked that it helps keep the jury awake.  It is not allowed in many states, but the federal rules allow for it, and there is a record of it being used as far back as when Lincoln practiced law.

It is done very carefully, starting with the judge telling the jury the purpose and scope of their questions.  Juror questions are limited to matters that come up during lawyer questioning – the purpose is not for them to investigate the case, but simply clarify what was presented.  Jurors are invited to write down any questions they have anonymously. The judge then speaks alone with the attorneys to see which questions are objected to, and whether any wording should be changed.  The judge then asks the approved questions directly to the witness, who responds facing the jury.  Then the attorneys are allowed to ask any follow-up questions of their witness.  Jurors are not allowed to discuss any questions they had that were not allowed.

In a case of a workplace accident, the jurors had questions about prior worker training and experience, the exact location of items in the accident area, and even the mental health of the witness.  It was interesting to see what jurors had on their minds in the middle of a trial.  It certainly interested the opposing counsel.  Through their trial faces gleamed a bit of emotion.  On one side, there was a hint of triumph.  On the other, a bit of chagrin.  But the jury members looked relieved and satisfied to have their questions addressed.