Letting jurors ask questions during trials

As Steve Chapman notes in a recycled but still-relevant column, a Seventh Circuit experiment along those lines seems to have served justice well. Commenters at Reason “Hit and Run” say the practice has long been in use in the military justice system. I mention the issue toward the end of this 2003 Reason piece adapted from my book The Rule of Lawyers (which I notice now has a Kindle edition).


  • Serving on a homicide jury was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life.

    For one, the rules of evidence seemed to be blocking the truth. Not to mention half the day being spent in procedural arguments, side bars, retreats to chambers, etc.

    We tried to ask questions during deliberation and those were largely blocked.

    Never again.

  • I’ve done a trial under the 7th Circuit rules. The jury did take advantage of their privilege of asking questions, but on the whole, their questions were not of much value. There were no questions which sought information about something that we, the lawyers, had failed to cover. There were no penetrating insights shown.

    Frankly, I found it a waste of time, given the cumbersome nature of the process: jury sends question (or, worse, has question when they come out, and then they have to be sent back), clerk makes copies for the lawyers, lawyers discuss question with judge and formulate answer, jurors are brought into courtroom to hear answer. It burned way more time than it was worth, overall.

    I’m not a fan.

  • Some judges experiment with this in New York. Jurors can write a question out and give it to the judge who will decide if it should get asked, and if so, put it in proper form.

    I have not yet had it happen in one of my own trials.

  • To Litigator,
    You may believe it’s a waste of time for a jury to a question, but if that question save an innocent man from going to jail for 20 years, i’d have to say its worth it. It also strikes me as serving another purpose after reading your comment, and that is that individuals who always believe everything they think is right, will eventually be proven wrong.

    We deserve the right to always question authority.

  • I think county courts in WA generally allow jury questions during civil trials anyway. Questions were good for gauging how screwed the client was.