A new editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times makes a good case for letting jurors ask questions in civil trials. The piece points out that the practice often has no law forbidding it, it’s just not conventional practice. One of the happy results of this is that judges have experimented with the practice in many states, and the results are encouraging.
The editorial makes some good points on the issue, and I’ll simply quote from its end:
In practice, jurors tend to ask few questions, only minimally lengthening the time of a trial. But the very fact that jurors can ask questions, judges say, keeps them remarkably more alert and engaged.
Typically, the judge invites written questions from jurors only after the lawyers for both sides have finished questioning a witness. The judge is free to reject a question or modify it, and the lawyers are free to ask follow-up questions.
We see no reason to make the rule mandatory; leave it to the discretion of the judges. But we also see no reason that the attorneys in a case must agree before juror questions are allowed, as the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association proposes. That amounts to a veto power.
The proposed rule applies only to civil trials. But if all goes well, the Illinois Supreme Court in a few more years might want to consider allowing questions from jurors in criminal trials as well.