From WILL - News Headlines -

Il. Supreme Court Considers Allowing Jurors to Question Witnesses

The Illinois Supreme Court is looking at a proposal to give jurors the right to ask witnesses questions during civil trials.

The questions could be modified or excluded after being reviewed by the attorneys and the judge in a case.

"The judge would read or provide a copy of the juror questions to all the lawyers in the case," Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor said. "It would give those attorneys an opportunity to object to any question."

Tybor said if a juror's question is presented to a witness, the judge would then allow attorneys to ask follow-up questions.

Supporters of the plan say this measure would provide lawyers with signals of a juror's focus, and encourage jurors to be more observant during a court case.

But some critics say allowing jurors to publicly talk about a case before closing arguments could jeopardize a final verdict.

"It might skew the results of the process that we have refined over the last several hundred years," said Urbana Attorney Tom Bruno, who chairs the Illinois State Bar Association. "Often just by the nature of questions that the questioner is asking, you can see where their mind is going with it or what their thoughts are on it."

Bruno added he is also concerned this proposal could delegitimize the role of prosecutors and defense attorneys.

"Part of this notion that the jury may think up better questions than my opponent could think up assumes the opposing council isn't smart enough or sharp enough or clever enough to think of asking these questions themselves," Bruno said.

The Illinois Supreme Court Rules Committee will hold a public hearing for community input about the proposal on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 10 a.m. at the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.

The measure would have to be approved by the Rules Committee, and then the full Supreme Court.