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Innovations in Jury Trials

States have implemented various innovative procedures to assist jurors during trials. The changes are aimed at improving juror understanding of the evidence and the court proceedings. Jurors are permitted to take notes during the trial in some courts. Trial judges in some courts have discretion to give jurors copies of preliminary jury instructions when the trial starts. In some courts, jurors can submit questions for witnesses. They can even discuss the case among themselves before jury deliberations begin.

Note Taking by Jurors
Feedback shows that jurors find it helpful to take notes. Taking notes seems to improve juror memory and understanding of the evidence. Taking notes does not seem to be a distraction, which has been one of the concerns voiced by some.

Questions by Jurors
Some state and federal courts permit jurors to submit written questions to the judge, who has discretion about whether to ask the questions of a witness. Research shows that permitting jurors to ask questions does not disrupt or prolong the trial. Studies also show that asking jurors’ questions made the jurors more attentive and aided their decision making.

Preliminary Jury Instructions
Preliminary jury instructions give the jurors legal guidelines that will be used in deciding the case. Research shows that preliminary instructions can help the jurors follow the evidence and give them a better understanding of the legal issues presented in the case.

Pre-Deliberation Discussion of the Evidence
Traditionally, jurors swear they will not discuss the case with anyone until the trial is over. One of the more controversial jury innovations is allowing jurors to discuss the case with other jurors while the trial is ongoing. There are some restrictions on the practice. The case can only be discussed in the jury room when all jurors are present. Also, jurors are cautioned that they should not reach any conclusion about the case until all the evidence has been presented and they have received the trial judge’s final instructions. Research shows that jurors have not pre-judged the case if they had been allowed to discuss the evidence during the trial. Also, discussing the evidence as it was presented allowed jurors to clarify questions they had and helped them recall the testimony.

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