Jurors in D.C. Superior Court not only should be allowed to take notes but also should be permitted to submit questions to witnesses during trial.
That is the opinion of Judge Henry F. Greene, who recently denied the requests of four defendants in a criminal trial that note-taking and questioning by jurors be curtailed.
Greene has been a leading advocate of jury innovations here and has been one of the few judges to encourage note-taking by jurors. The idea appears to be catching on and would bring the city more in line with jurisdictions such as Montgomery County, where such practices have been in place for some time.
Greene said in his written opinion that notes "assist jurors in recalling the evidence and the instructions, help some jurors to better understand and to focus attention on the testimony and evidence, aid jurors in organizing their thoughts during deliberations and probably clarify issues during jury deliberations."
The judge dismissed the arguments brought by the defendants in the case -- mainly, that jurors who took the best notes would be more influential during deliberations.
Greene said that judges who hear trials without juries commonly take notes, as do lawyers who argue the cases.
Apparently, the issue of allowing jurors to ask questions of witnesses has never been addressed locally. Greene found that no jurisdiction -- state or federal -- prohibits the practice.
Asking questions, Greene wrote, "enhances not only [ the jurors ] ability to understand what is being communicated, but results in their putting forth more effort to listen and to understand because they know they may ask questions."
But, Greene says, jurors should be allowed to submit questions only in writing and under strict scrutiny of the judge and the attorneys.