The Illinois Supreme Court has approved a policy allowing jurors to question witnesses in civil trials. The new rule, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 243, takes effect July 1.
According to Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, “Based on the comments of those who have used or seen the procedure at trial, such a rule enhances juror engagement, juror comprehension and attention to the proceeding.”
In the past, the state Supreme Court prevented the practice of allowing jurors to ask questions. The new procedure will let the trial judge to meet with attorneys out of earshot of the jury and allow an attorney to object to any jury questions. The trial judge then will decide whether to allow the question, modify or exclude the questions.
The Illinois Supreme Court rule change came first from a committee that received the proposal in August 2010. The Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee considered the proposal and spent months developing the measure.
The Supreme Court rule directs the trial judge to ask the approved questions and then permit both attorneys to follow up with questions of their own. The questions must be limited to the scope of the testimony provided in the answer by the witness. The Committee also recommended that trial judges give preliminary instructions to jurors to explain the procedure. Then judges must give additional instructions on the process once the testimony has ended.
At the moment, all federal district courts, and at least half of all states, allow jurors to write questions and submit them for consideration. Engaging the jurors this way will keep most jurors alert and attentive to the proceedings. Jurors have been allowed to take notes in the Circuit Court of Cook County for many years, but they have not been allowed to ask questions until this rule change. Often in jury deliberations, jurors ask the judge questions that may be considered and answered by the court; just as often, these questions are ignored by the judge for legal reasons. This rule will engage the jury more directly in civil trials.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling civil jury trials in nursing home abuse cases, automotive cases, motorcycle crashes and medical negligence cases for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Berwyn, Chicago (Archer Heights), Chicago (Lawndale), Des Plaines, Bensenville, Elmhurst, Hillside, LaGrange Park, Countryside and Chicago (Riverdale), Illinois.
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