Article Appeared in The Advocate, by Thomas P. Scarritt, Jr., Chair, Trial Lawyers Section, November 2001
Jurors play a critical role in the administration of our civil and criminal justice system. That role has been closely scrutinized by Florida’s Jury Innovations Committee, which has rendered a report that is far-reaching in its proposed reforms. The suggested changes seek to treat jurors not as children or bystanders at trial, but as full partners in the proceedings. The report contains 48 areas of study and recommendations on virtually all aspects of the jury system, including the following:
- Make accommodations for disabled and elderly persons so that they can provide jury service.
- Adopt a Juror Bill of Rights that allows jurors to take notes, ask questions of witnesses or the judge, and to discuss collectively the evidence during trial.
- Allow civil litigants to stipulate to less-than-unanimous jury verdicts.
- Allow deadlocked juries to request and receive limited additional argument by the attorneys to help break the deadlock.
- Answer jury questions to the court during deliberation whenever possible instead of simply referring to prior instructions or the jury’s collective memory.
- Deliver jury instructions before closing arguments, and provide them in writing for use during deliberation.
- Expand the use of depositions in civil cases by repealing the “100 mile rule” as a prerequisite.
- Allow counsel to make interim commentary to juries in cases over three days duration.
- Study further the use of peremptory challenges, including whether they should be eliminated entirely.
- Allow lawyers and encourage judges to make brief mini-opening statements, and/or brief case outlines to juries before jury selection.
- Reduce statutory exemptions to jury duty, but retain and broaden hardship provisions using objective criteria.
Copies of this report are available from the Court Services Division, Office of the State Courts Administrator, Supreme Court Building, 500 South Duval Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399 or by calling (850) 922- 5094. Copies may also be obtained from the Supreme Court website at www.flcourts.org sublink Judicial Administration, sublink Florida Court Committees, sublink Judicial Management Council, sublink Jury Innovations Committee.
The Trial Lawyers Section Executive Council met and discussed these proposals both by committee and as a whole. The Council drafted its comments to the Florida Supreme Court, which can be viewed by visiting our website at www.flatls.org. If you have strong feelings one way or the other, I encourage you to contact anyone on the Executive Council to express those thoughts. Oral argument before the Florida Supreme Court was originally scheduled for November 7, 2001, but has been rescheduled until Monday, February 4, 2002. Although the time for filing written comments and requesting permission to participate in the oral argument has officially passed, some groups have requested permission to submit their comments out-of-time. If your practice involves jury trials, I urge you to make your opinions known.