Proposed Civil Jury Changes and Research Results

11 September 2000


Proposed Civil Jury Changes and Research Results


Pursuant to a resolution of the Executive Council of the Judicial Conference, on September 14, 1999, Chief Justice William Ray Price, Jr., appointed a Committee to study civil jury reform.  The Committee examined ways that jurors participate in civil trials and will recommend to the Supreme Court changes that may be desirable.  The Committee was asked to focus on those issues that could be addressed by Supreme Court administrative or procedural rule, rather than by statutory change.  The Committee examined potential areas of improvements including such issues as juror note-taking and questioning during trial, guides for juror deliberations, revision of explanatory instructions, juror discussion of the case prior to final deliberation, standardized voir dire procedures, use of juror notebooks, explanatory statements by lawyers during the course of trial, and other trial procedures that might enhance jury participation and effectiveness.  
The Committee's report includes the results of a statewide survey of judges conducted by the Committee, the draft results of a statewide survey of jurors commissioned by The Missouri Bar, and extensive information collected from clerks' offices and jury supervisors in every county and the City of St. Louis.

The full draft report and a summary of the Committee's recommendations appear below. 

In Word     In PDF

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

I. Uniform Juror Qualification Form and Questionnaire
    The Committee recommends that the Supreme Court require that all circuits use a uniform juror qualification form and/or questionnaire, to include a minimum set of standard questions for all potential jurors.  The Committee further suggests that the Supreme Court require that the responses be available to the lawyers in time to prepare for and use during voir dire.

II. Juror Note-taking
    The Committee recommends that Supreme Court Rule 69.03, which allows note-taking, be amended to encourage trial judges to sua sponte permit jurors to take notes and, upon request of any party, to require trial judges to permit juror note-taking absent good cause to deny the request.

III. Jurors' Submission of Questions to Witnesses
    The Committee recommends that pilot programs be established to study the advantages and concerns related to jurors' ability to ask questions of witnesses through the lawyers or judge.  An example of procedures and jury instructions that could be used is included in the report.  The Committee also recommends advance training for those judges selected to participate in the pilot programs.

IV.   Discussion by Jurors before Deliberations
    The Committee considered whether pre-deliberation discussion by jurors should be permitted.  Recognizing the radical departure from prior practice and serious potential dangers, the Committee believes the experience in other courts should be carefully studied and does not recommend, at this time, that pre-deliberation discussions be permitted.

V. Civil Jury Instructions 
    The Committee found both that jurors highly rate the ease of understanding jury instructions and that means exist to enhance jurors' understanding of the instructions.  The Committee recommends that the MAI Committee consider:

(1) jury instructions at the start of the trial prior to opening statements,
(2) further simplification of instructions, and
(3) repeating portions of MAI 2.01, which is given at the beginning of trial, at the close of the evidence, perhaps in MAI 2.03.

Moreover, the Committee recommends that each juror be given a copy of the instructions before final argument and deliberation.

VII. Other Recommendations to Assist Jurors

A. Introduction of the Case to Jurors
The Committee recommends encouraging the use of a summary statement of the case, which can be read to the jury prior to voir dire, by adding a provision to Rule 69.  New Rule 69.04 would require the trial judge to read a brief summary of the case based on the parties' agreement; or if the parties do not agree on a statement, to read the court's statement; or to permit brief non-argumentative statements by counsel.

B. Notebooks for Jurors
The Committee encourages the use of notebooks for jurors, to include explanatory instructions (such as MAI 2.01), a copy of the brief statement of the case, and possibly other materials such as courthouse information and blank pages for taking notes.  The Committee suggests a new section in Rule 69 authorizing such notebooks.

C.   Pre-trial Conference Rule
The Committee recommends using the pre-trial conference rule, Rule 62.01, to encourage judges and lawyer to consider and implement ways to enhance jury trials.  Pre-trial conference topics should include the use of notebooks for juror note-taking, a brief summary of the case prior to voir dire, the effective management of documents and exhibits, and the use of technology to present evidence and make it more understandable.  

VIII. Miscellaneous Recommendations
The Committee believes that a number of other ideas merit further study, consideration, and implementation.  For example, judges, lawyers, and court personnel should make every effort to minimize delays and make the most efficient use of jurors' time, and they should communicate clearly to the jurors what the jurors' responsibilities are and what jurors can expect.  Courts should encourage the use of technology to make the case simpler, more understandable, and more interesting.  Courts should "de-brief" jurors so that jurors may provide comments, receive advice on their privacy rights and residual stress, and complete their service with a feeling of satisfaction.


The Committee will hold a panel discussion regarding the report on Friday, September 22, 2000, at 11:00 a.m. at The Missouri Bar's annual meeting in St. Louis.  (This is a time change from the orginally scheduled 10:00 a.m.)  The Committee is accepting comments and suggestions until September 22, 2000.  Please forward comments to any member of the Committee, as indicated in the report, or to staff for the Committee, Tracy Synan, Communications Counsel, Supreme Court of Missouri, P.O. Box 150, Jefferson City, Missouri, 65202, (573) 751-4144, tracy_synan@courts.mo.gov.


end