Juror Questioning of Witnesses in Criminal Trials

The “Jury’s Still Out” in Illinois

Over the last couple of centuries, the American jury has devolved from an active interrogator to a passive observer. Various reform movements have attempted to restore the jury’s active role. Most recently, Illinois passed Illinois Supreme Court Rule 243. This rule allows members of the jury to ask witnesses questions. The hope is that by allowing jurors to ask questions, they will become more engaged and more deeply comprehend what is occurring in the trial. Additionally, it will make for a more informed jury, raising the chances that a fair verdict is returned. Rule 243, however, only applies in civil trials. Jurors cannot ask questions of witnesses in criminal trials. This Note argues that Rule 243 should expand to allow jurors to ask witnesses questions in criminal trials. In criminal trials, the most basic American interests of freedom and justice are at stake. Allowing jurors to ask questions of witnesses is paramount to preserving these interests.This Note begins by looking at the history of juror questioning in America, as well as in Illinois, specifically the events leading up to the passage of Rule 243. Additionally, it presents the approaches of other jurisdictions to juror questioning. There are three types of approaches: (1) express prohibition of jury questions; (2) no express prohibition but lack of implementation of the practice; (3) allowance of jury questions within specific guidelines. While there are noted benefits and drawbacks to allowing jurors to ask questions of witnesses, this Note argues that the interests of justice are best served by allowing these questions in both civil and criminal trials. It concludes by proposing a rule similarly worded to Rule 243 but including guidelines particular to criminal trials.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.