Judges across the nation are trying to improve the quality of trials by making jury service more appealing and engaging for the 4 million citizens who answer jury summonses each year from state and federal courts, reports USA Today. Courts in North Carolina, California, New York, Texas, and several other states allow jurors to take notes during trials, a reversal of court rules that date to a time when many jurors weren’t literate. In California, jurors in some cases are furnished with notebooks that contain trial exhibits and legal papers to help their deliberations.
Twenty-six states, the District of Columbia and 10 of the 12 federal court circuits allow jurors to question witnesses. Courts in 30 states have launched innovations to improve jury service, say researchers Gregory Mize and Christopher Connelly of the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. Defense lawyers complain thatt allowing jurors to ask questions unfairly helps prosecutors by revealing weaknesses in the prosecution’s case that then can be addressed. Lawsuits challenging the practice have been decided in 29 states and in 10 federal court jurisdictions, usually in favor of allowing jurors to ask questions. Criminal court judges in Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Texas have barred jurors’ questions.