3 Tips for Handling Juror Questions
In a way, handling juror questions is like handling judges' questions.
The question may give you cause for concern, especially if the answer will hurt your client's case. Or it may give you hope because the answer will lead to a favorable result.
In any case, juror questions are important indicators in a trial and should be welcome. Questions show that jurors are engaged and want to know more about the case. It is also important to think about how to handle them.
Trial lawyers should prepare to assist the court with juror questions before witnesses take the stand. For example, one proposed jury instruction may be:
"The court will permit jurors to submit written questions during the course of the trial. Such questions must be submitted to the court, but, depending upon the court's ruling on the questions, the court may not submit them to the witness. The court will endeavor to permit such questions at the conclusion of a witness's testimony."
2. Take Notes
Most jurors are new to the trial process, so it is natural that they will have questions. In courts that allow them to take notes, those jurors will likely write down their questions.
By observing this process, trial lawyers may gain insights about particular jurors. At a minimum, they may deduce that the note-takers are paying attention.
An attorney should also take notes about the jurors' questions. They may help to formulate more questions for a witness or to focus on a point in closing argument.
3. Follow Procedure
In the course of a trial, anyone can get caught off guard. Whether it's a nervous witness, a tired attorney, or a bored judge, everybody makes mistakes. When it comes to jurors' questions, attorneys need to pay particular attention to procedure.
Although trial procedure is in the judge's discretion, attorneys should do their part to ensure fair trials and guard against mistrials. The lawyers should have the opportunity to object to jurors' questions, and only the judge should convey their questions to witnesses.
Each trial participant has certain duties that cannot be delegated to another participant. It would be inappropriate, for example, for a judge to have an attorney take the role of the judge in reading juror questions or jury instructions.
- 'Your Witness' Now Signals Jury's Turn to Ask Questions (New York Times)
- Jodi Arias Trial: Can Jurors Question Witnesses? (FindLaw's Blotter)
- Judge Dismisses Jury That Questioned Lack of Diversity (FindLaw's Strategist)
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