If you have ever watched a courtroom drama or have sat in the back of a courtroom as a case unfolded, you may have been struck by the quiet presence of a jury. Not all trials involve juries, but those that do proceed in a relatively curious way. Although the outcome of the case is ultimately determined by the jury, its members are rarely allowed to ask any questions whatsoever. Instead, they listen to the arguments made by the attorneys involved, process the testimony and evidence presented, review the transcript as drafted by the court reporter when they need to refresh their memories and often decide the fate of those involved without uttering a single word in open court.
So, why don’t jurors ask more questions? Wouldn’t it benefit everyone affected by the process if jurors were regularly allowed to seek clarifications, inquire about context and question those involved? The answers to these questions are complex and are often relative in nature. But they do help to illustrate why the jury trial process progresses in the ways it tends to currently.
The vast majority of the time, jurors are prohibited from asking attorneys and witnesses questions during the trial process. Most often, courts only allow jurors to ask highly specific questions related to the charges that have been filed, jury procedure and potential sentencing. Even then, these questions must be presented in specific ways by a single juror and must be addressed to the presiding judge.
This arrangement places considerable pressures on both attorneys and court reporters. Attorneys must present their cases both clearly and completely because the arguments, testimony and evidence they put forward is all that juries may generally process when making their determinations. Similarly, if court reporters are not accurate to the word, the outcome of the trial may be improperly decided. When jurors consult a trial transcript in order to clarify testimony, meaning, evidence, argumentation and a host of other resources, they must be able to reference a truly “clean” and accurate accounting of all that has occurred in the courtroom.
Jurors are not permitted to ask questions partially because they need to avoid influencing the proceedings in either intentional or subconscious ways. Juries are meant to act as impartial bystanders until a determination can be made based on everything that has been presented during the course of the trial and only what has been presented. As a result, it falls to attorneys to make their clients’ cases and court reporters to accurately document those cases as presented. Jurors may then focus all of their attention upon rendering a fair decision.
Answers to Additional Legal Questions
If you have questions about juries, evidence, court reporters, or any other element of legal cases, please consider contacting an experienced attorney. Consulting with an attorney is generally a confidential process and does not obligate you to take any legal action, so there is really no reason to delay if you have legal questions in need of answers. In addition, it is often the case in the legal “world” that asking questions in a proactive fashion tends to benefit those who choose to speak up. Waiting until a need or query is urgent tends to leave individuals with fewer options and less flexibility with regards to whatever their legal situation may be.