Effective July 1, 2012, jurors in Illinois civil cases will be allowed to ask questions of witnesses, under new Supreme Court Rule 243.
The Rules states:
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.
Adopted April 3, 2012, eff. July 1, 2012.
I think this is an important rule change and can only help to assist jurors in their role as fact finders, by allowing them to get additional answers to questions that may not have been asked by the attorneys, either by inadvertence or intentionally.
In talking with jurors after a trial, I often find that they have many good questions that went unanswered. Heck, often the attorneys kick themselves because they forgot to ask something. When you add twelve more people into the mix, someone is bound to come up with a good question that could be helpful in resolving the case.
Note that the jurors’ questions are subject to objections, just like any question posed by an attorney. This is because many questions that a layperson would ask would not be allowed at trial. Such questions could lead to the jury basing their decision on facts or sentiments that are not directly relevant to the case. It was wise to require that these objections be heard outside the presence of the jury. That way, an attorney can feel free to make his or her objections without worrying that his or her client will be penalized for “blocking” someone’s question.
I am told that juries have been allowed to ask questions in other jurisdictions, generally with good results. I am curious to see how this works out in Illinois.