Juror questions during trial: A window into juror thinking

Shari Diamond*, Diamond Mary R Rose, Beth Murphy, Sven Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Scopus citations

    Abstract

    Allowing jurors to submit questions for witnesses during trial provides a potentially valuable tool for jurors, as well as a window into juror thinking. Our study of juror questions is based on a close examination of the 829 questions jurors submitted during 50 civil trials and the videotapes of the jury deliberations in those cases. The vast majority of the juror questions demonstrate a problem-solving approach consistent with the jurors' role as fact-finders, rather than as advocates. Jurors use questions to thread their way through the conflicting evidence presented at trial and produce a plausible account of the events that led to trial. Their questions generally do not add significant time to trials. Jurors tend to focus their questions on the primary legal issues in the cases and to direct them to witnesses providing testimony on central issues. A substantial number of juror questions reflect efforts to clarify witness testimony and fill in gaps, but, in addition, almost half of the questions enlist an approach we call "Cross-Checking". "Cross-Checking" occurs when jurors use a process of comparison to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and the plausibility of accounts offered during trial. Discussion regarding answers to juror questions does not dominate deliberations. Rather, the answers to juror questions appear to supplement and deepen juror understanding of the evidence. In particular, the questions jurors submit for experts reveal efforts to grapple with the content, not merely the trappings, of challenging evidence. Few juror questions suggest an effort to prove a point rather than to gather information. The procedures used to guide the questioning process can be crucial. Drawing upon observations of juries in Arizona and the federal Seventh Circuit, we describe procedures to optimize the use of juror questions.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1925-1972
    Number of pages48
    JournalVanderbilt Law Review
    Volume59
    Issue number6
    StatePublished - Nov 2006

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Law

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