Many people may wonder how a jury knows how to act or make decisions when it comes to a DC personal injury case. Although there a lot of factors involved in the decision making process, the simple answer is that there is a set of guidelines called the jury instruction. In every case that involves a jury, the judge will issue this set of rules to the jurors in order to guide them and instruct them so that they can make the most fair and knowledgeable decision about the case.
Let’s take a look at this jury instruction from a D.C. Civil Court regarding whether or not jurors can ask questions throughout the trial.
Questions by Jurors (D.C. Std. Civ. Jury Instr. No. 1-3)
Jurors may ask questions of witnesses under guidelines that I will now explain. Generally, the lawyers may ask the questions. Occasionally, however, a juror may think that the lawyers have not asked an important question. I am not encouraging you to ask questions – or discouraging you. The purpose of any question should be to get information will help you carry out your responsibility as impartial judges of the the facts.
Before each witness leaves the stand, I will give you a chance to write down any questions you would like the witness to answer. If you think an important question has not been asked, you may write that question on a piece of paper and give it to the clerk. Once a witness has the left the witness stand, I will not bring the witness back to answer a question the juror later may wish to ask. You may not discuss possible questions with any other fellow jurors.
I will consult with the lawyers about any question, and I will determine whether the question is legally proper– just as I would do if a lawyer asks the question. If the question is legally proper, I will ask the witness the question. If I do not ask the question, that means I have decided that the question is not legally proper. If I decide the question is proper, but relates to what the law is I will answer the question, either at that time or during the final instruction. [If I decide not to ask a question, the juror who requested it cannot speculate or guess as to what the answer might have been.]
What does it all mean in relation to DC, Maryland, and Virginia injury cases?
Let’s be honest. Sometimes — even though the jury instruction is supposed to make things easier — it can be confusing. For the majority of Americans who do not attend law school, legal guidelines can seem vague and complex.
First things first, when looking at the above jury instruction on questions by jurors, it is important to understand the whole picture. The judge of this court is essentially laying on when a juror can and cannot ask a question. Contrary to common belief that jurors can only observe, this judge attempts to clear the air by acknowledging that there is room for jurors to ask questions, although there are a couple guidelines to follow. This holds true in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, and the surrounding areas.
What exactly are the guidelines when asking a question as a juror?
A judge neither encourages or discourages questions, however, there are two main guidelines to think about before you ask a question. First, you must honestly believe that your question has not been answered yet. Second, you must believe that your question will help provide the information you need to make an informed decision on the case.
How do you ask the question?
If your question follows the two above guidelines, you are probably wondering how do you ask it. Typically, before a witness leaves the stand, the judge will give you time to write down your questions. It is in this time that you will be able to submit your questions to the court of the DC injury case. If your question pertains to a specific witness, make sure to do it when they are still on the stand, because as soon as they are dismissed, you can no longer ask them questions.
So, as a quick recap: make sure your question follows the above guidelines, write down your question in the allotted time given by the judge, and make sure you submit it before the witness is dismissed.
Who decides if your question will be asked?
The short answer is the judge. Although you may believe your question is necessary to the case, the judge may disagree. In fact, the judge — in consultation with the respective attorneys — will discuss whether or not your question is legally proper.
What does legally proper mean, anyway?
In any DC injury case, legally proper fundamentally means that it follows the guidelines of court etiquette. There are various rules (don’t worry, you don’t need to know all of them) that the judge and attorneys should be experts on. A legally proper question avoids leading statements and accusations.
Take, for example, a Greenbelt Maryland personal injury case where a driver hit a motorcyclist on the road, and caused the cyclist to break their leg.
A leading question, and therefore not legally proper, would be to ask the car driver “why did you drink alcohol before getting into your car causing the cyclist to get injured?” A question like this is accusatory, and assumes the driver was drunk which may not have been established (remember: everyone is innocent until proven guilty, even when you may feel it is obvious someone is at fault). A better, legally proper question you could ask could be, “where were you before you got into the car?” If it seems that the car driver was at a bar, it may give us context about the crash. However, it does not assume the driver was drinking; likely a skilled Alexandria, VA DUI lawyer will have already asked this.
Final things to remember
Ultimately, it is up to the judge’s discrepancy whether or not a question will be asked. If your question is not asked, you cannot assume or make conclusions about the answer. Trust that the judge chose not to ask it for a reason, and make your decision based solely on the facts you have.
Please do not rely on any above statements as legal advice. You should always seek the advice of a licensed lawyer in order to assist you.