Court to Weigh Juror Questioning

May 2005

Colorado's relatively new practice of allowing jurors to ask questions during trials is under attack by a defendant who says it violates his constitutional right to a fair trial. The Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case Monday. The article reviews the arguments in favor of the practice, but doesn't provide many of the opposing arguments. Here are some of the disadvantages courts have found to the practice :

  • Jurors may assign disproportionate weight to evidence elicited in response to their own questions
  • It can transform jurors from neutral fact finders to inquisitors and advocates
  • It may promote premature deliberations and result in jurors prematurely evaluating the evidence
  • Attorneys may refrain from raising legitimate objections to juror questions to avoid offending jurors.

More reaction , from lawyers with personal experience at trials in Massachussetts, is here. As to how courts in other jurisdictions have ruled on the practice, the news article linked above reports:

The practice is prohibited in Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska and Texas, but has been upheld by every federal appeals court to have considered it, according to the National Center for State Courts.