Illinois Adopts Rule Allowing Jurors to Question Witnesses

Imagine you are in the middle of a complicated fire subrogation case. Each side has multiple lay and expert witnesses. After your expert finishes testifying about the fire’s cause, one confused looking juror raises his hand with a clarification question for your expert. The judge informs the juror that this is not permitted, and you cringe wondering what the juror did or did not understand and how it would affect your case. Prior to this year, the juror would not have been allowed to find out the answer to his question. However, in Illinois, this is all about to change.

On April 3, 2012, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted new Rule 243, which will allow jurors to submit questions of witnesses during civil trials. Presently, half of the state court systems and all of the federal circuits allow jurors to submit questions to witnesses.

In a civil trial, the judge will have discretion on whether the rule will be implemented and which witnesses may be questioned. If allowed, the jury members may submit written questions to the judge initially. There is no limit to the number of questions allowed any one juror, and the jury members will not be required to submit questions. All questions will be marked as exhibits and made a part of the record. Outside the presence of the jury, the judge will review the questions with counsel and rule on all objections. The judge will then decide on which questions will be admitted or excluded. Questions may also be modified by the judge. After the appropriate questions have been decided upon, the judge will read them to the witness with an opportunity for follow-up questions from the attorneys limited to the scope of the new testimony.

The goal of Rule 243 is that jurors will better comprehend the testimony being offered, allowing for verdicts that are based on a correct understanding of the facts and testimony.  Rule 243 becomes effective on July 1, 2012 for all civil trials in Illinois.