Friday, June 13, 2003

Ruling to let jurors ask questions vindicates test by Judge Tracey

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jurors may ask witnesses questions during trials, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled this week.

It's vindication for Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Ann Marie Tracey, who allowed jurors to ask questions in a 2000 case. The appeals court later overturned a conviction in the case, saying it was an unfair practice.

"This is the information age; a person can find out anything with the touch of a keyboard," Tracey said. "To tell jurors to sit there passively without interacting flies in the face of how we're geared.

"When we invite jurors into the process, it lends to better results," Tracey added.

In a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court ruled that allowing jurors to submit questions to witnesses through the judge is within the discretion of a trial court and does not violate a criminal defendant's rights.

Every federal circuit that has addressed the issue, and a vast majority of state courts, have made similar decisions.

In 2000 Tracey chaired the jury committee for Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer's Futures Commission, which was studying the issue.

"It was looking like the committee wanted to recommend it, so I thought I'd try it," she said.

Tracey allowed questions only after she had seen them and agreed that they addressed an issue that needed clarifying.

"It worked really well, and I found it saved time in deliberation," Tracey said.

She pointed out studies have found jurors who are permitted to ask questions show a higher satisfaction and pay closer attention.

"The results are better all the way around," Tracey said.

No other judges have allowed the practice here.

Tracey is leaving the bench Aug. 1 to teach at Xavier University. Should she have a trial before then, it's a practice she'll allow, she said.


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