"In plain English, what's a 'public nuisance,'" the jurors could have asked during the Rhode Island (RI) lead paint trial. And maybe that and other pointed questions could have changed everything.
In Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, jurors are being allowed to ask those kinds of questions, right in the midst of the trial. Currently it's an experiment but it could become standard procedure.
In his posting today on Pointoflaw.com, Walter Olson explains how that experiment began in Arizona and has now spread elsewhere. For example, in the 7th Circuit, which encompasses the three states mentioned above, jurors in civil trials are permitted to submit questions to anyone who is testifying.
Such questions could have proved a gold mine to the defense in the RI lead paint trial. Had there been enough questions probably the defense would never had decided not to call witnesses. They would have recognized that there were many loose ends. And defense lawyers would have been able to zero in on just the kind of witnesses to call. It wasn't until post-verdict jury interviews that I, for one, found out that it was medical testimony that was most influential. And had the jurors hammered supposed objective witnesses such as Drs. Markowitz and Rosner about their seeming biases, the state would have lost moral ground.
Perhaps if there is a RI lead paint trial III, jurors will be allowed to present their questions.