The State Bar of Michigan's final policy-making body, the Representative Assembly, has made a series of recommendations to the Michigan Supreme Court on proposed jury reforms. The Court has been seeking input from the public and the legal community since July 2006 on a reform package that aims to give jurors more information and help them to render fair, impartial verdicts.
The Representative Assembly endorsed a number of proposals, including:
- Allowing jurors to take notes and ask questions;
- Allowing judges to provide jurors with preliminary and final instructions, subject to modifications proposed by the Assembly;
- Allowing lawyers to provide jurors with trial notebooks, subject to modifications proposed by the Assembly; and
- Allowing jurors to request a view of a scene in civil and criminal cases, subject to modifications proposed by the Assembly.
The Assembly recommended rejection of a number of proposals, including:
- Allowing judges to comment on the weight of the evidence;
- Encouraging the preparation and reading of summaries of expert witnesses’ depositions at trial rather than the depositions themselves;
- Allowing judges to craft a procedure for the presentation of expert testimony; and
- Allowing jurors to discuss the case prior to deliberations.
At the Bar's Annual Meeting in Ypsilanti recently, Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Markman told members of the 150-strong Representative Assembly that the jury reform proposals were "intended to enhance the quality of the jury's deliberative process and thereby further the truth seeking function of the jury trial." He also said that the present rules had worked well in enabling the jury to carry out its missions, and that they should not be altered lightly or without considering the unanticipated consequences of change.
A panel of lawyers and judges from Michigan and Indiana were on hand to address questions raised by Representative Assembly members at the Annual Meeting. Indiana has had many of the proposed reforms in place for several years.
Comments or concerns about the proposed jury reforms should be submitted to Corbin Davis, Clerk of the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Hall of Justice, P.O. Box 30052, Lansing, MI 48909 by November 1, 2006. Information on the proposed changes may be viewed at the Supreme Court website at: www.courts.michigan.gov/supremecourt/Resources/Administrative/2005-19.pdf.