The New York State Bar Association’s Committee on the Jury System has released an interim report relating to peremptory challenges, and permitting jurors to ask questions of witnesses.
Peter D. Fitzgerald of Glens Falls (FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth), chair of the committee said, “It is critical that the jury system promote fairness and impartiality on behalf of litigants and defendants. We believe there are aspects of the system that work well and should be maintained.”
In developing its report, the committee used the expertise of its members combined with the results of a survey, to gather information on the attitudes of attorneys. Points of view were solicited from recipients including relevant sections and committees of the State Bar and 11 of 12 administrative judges.
The report is part of the Association’s continuing examination of the jury process. The committee’s recommendations are:
There should be no reduction or alteration in the number of peremptory challenges in both criminal and civil jury selection: Fitzgerald said the NYSBA has been on record, since 1994, as opposing a reduction in the number of peremptory challenges (limited number of challenges each side in a trial can use to eliminate potential jurors without stating a reason). “The use of such challenges aids in providing for a fair and impartial jury.”
“We believe that decreasing the number of challenges could prolong and complicate selection and would not be justified as part of an effort to conserve jury resources,” he said.
Jurors should not be permitted to ask oral questions directly to a witness during trial: “We are concerned about the difficulty of determining the appropriateness of the questions, maintaining control of the proceedings, and enforcing the rules of evidence if questions were asked directly,” he said.
Jurors should not be permitted to submit questions for witnesses in writing to the judge (who would determine whether the questions are permissible): The report notes that the Unified Court System’s Jury Trial Project is conducting an experiment and before such a change is made, the results of this experience should be reviewed.
The Committee plans to review additional issues and file a report at a later date.
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, ONE ELK STREET, ALBANY, NY 12207 PH: (518) 463-3200 SECURE FX: (518) 463-5993