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Jurors Asking Questions

Oct. 11, 2013

In recent months the case of The State of Arizona v. Arias, raised an interesting question: “I thought only the lawyers can ask questions; how can jurors be allowed to question a witness (in the Arias case, the defendant)?”

Brief facts for context: Jody Arias was charged with murdering her boyfriend Travis Alexander. Arias plead not guilty and provided a defense of “self-defense.” Although she had a Fifth Amendment Right to “remain silent,” Arias took the stand in her own defense.

As the defendant, Arias was a defense witness, so her attorney was allowed to question her – direct examination. The prosecutor was then allowed to question her – cross examination. Following questioning by the attorneys, the jurors were then allowed to submit questions to the judge for the witnesses. The jurors cannot ask the questions directly. After the questions are submitted, the attorneys have a right to present argument to the trial judge on why the questions should or should not be asked. After hearing argument from the attorneys, the trial judge decides which questions can be asked of the witness. This will also provide some insight to the attorneys to which way the jurors may be swaying based upon the questions they want to ask: For example if the question is “Can the defendant appeal the case if we find her guilty?;” then the defense may be in trouble.

Arizona where the Arias case was tried is one of at least three (3) states that allow jurors to ask questions of witnesses, which may include criminal defendants that take the stand. Juror questions are also permitted in Colorado and Indiana.

Presently, Virginia does not permit juror questions.

For my money, I like the Virginia system, because it allows each participant to stay focus on his/her/its role: the judge oversees the entire trial to make sure the rules and procedures are being followed; the trial lawyers make sure they ask the appropriate questions and present their best case according to the rulings of the court; and finally the jurors decide the case based upon the evidence presented. The jurors already have enough on their plates, and do not need to be saddled with more responsibility that could detract from their ultimate goal of deciding the case on the evidence presented.

There are however, other states, pundits and writers that advocate that allowing jurors to submit questions to the witnesses is good and that other states should get on board.

What are your thoughts? If you were on a jury, would you like to ask questions?