California jury system benefits from new rules
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
December 29, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Jurors who serve in state trial
courts in California in the New Year will benefit from several
new rules, including a requirement that they be allowed to take
The procedures were adopted by the state Judicial Council, the
policymaking body of the California court system, at a meeting
in San Francisco on Dec. 1. They will go into effect on Monday.
In a key measure, jurors will be permitted to take written notes
in all civil and criminal trials in superior courts, the trial
courts of the state court system.
Judicial Council spokeswoman Lynn Holton said judges previously
had the authority to allow note taking, but there was no statewide
requirement that judges must permit the practice.
Under the new rule, judges will be required to allow jurors to
take notes and to inform jurors that they may do so. Courts will
be required to provide suitable materials for note taking.
Several other new rules are in the form of recommendations or
expanded authority for trial judges, including a recommendation
that judges allow jurors to submit written questions directed
to witnesses who are testifying.
Other changes include authorization for judges to allow lawyers
to make brief opening statements about a case to the entire panel
of prospective jurors before the actual jurors are chosen, and
authorization for judges to give juries preliminary instructions
at the start of a trial on the principles of law that will govern
Another change provides authorization for judges to help juries
that appear to be at an impasse during deliberations by providing
additional or clarifying jury instructions and/or allowing additional
closing arguments by lawyers.
The new rules are part of a decade-long effort to improve the
state jury system.
Previous reforms include the council's adoption of so-called
"plain English" jury instructions for civil cases statewide
in 2003 and for criminal cases in 2005.
In 2000, juror pay was increased for the first time since 1957,
from $5 per day to $15 per day, starting with the second day of
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