When Questions From the Jury Are a Bad Sign

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The idea of questions from the jury may be new to some, but in several states the law allows jurors to pose their own questions to witnesses. The questions are in writing and are screened by the judge and subject to objection, just like any other questions, but the jury gets to ask them. This can be nerve-wracking for the lawyers, although in my (limited) experience it has been helpful because it gives you at least some insight into what the jurors may be thinking. Whether it seems like good news or bad, it's potentially useful information to have.

I would guess, though, that if you are on trial for murder and the jury has, let's say, over 150 written questions for you, that is probably not good news.

That's how many Jodi Arias got the other day. That case is thoroughly bizarre to begin with, so the spectacle of more than 150 jury questions is not that spectacular in context, but it would otherwise be very remarkable. Just as some minimal background, Arias is charged with murdering her boyfriend, though she claims it was self-defense. If so, she did a pretty thorough job of defending herself, as she not only shot him in the head but also stabbed him 27 times and slashed his throat. Unless she was dating Rasputin, that seems a little unnecessary.

Hence, most likely, the 150+ questions.

It also matters what the questions are, of course. Here are a few of them, according to the Associated Press

  • "Is there anyone else who knows about your memory issues?" (She claims she doesn't remember the killing, but otherwise says she has a "really excellent memory.")
  • "How can you say that you don't have memory issues when you can't remember how you stabbed him so many times and slashed his throat?" (Any question that starts with "how can you say" is not a good sign, I think.)
  • "Would you agree that you came away from the June 4 incident rather unscathed while Travis suffered a gunshot and multiple stab wounds?"  (Again, cross-examination questions from jurors are not good.)
  • "After all the lies you have told, why should we believe you now?" (Pretty much speaks for itself.)

I forgot to mention that the 150+ questions were just the ones that the judge agreed could be asked after reviewing them—according to some reports, the jury has submitted around 220. Just imagine what the other 70 must have been like.