VOL. 115 | NO. 191 | Thursday, November 8, 2001
Jury reform in West Tennessees future
Jury reform on horizon in West Tennessee
By MARY DANDO
The Daily News
Jurors in 10 courtrooms across the state including Shelby
County are participating in a new Tennessee Supreme Court jury reform pilot
project aimed at improving conditions for citizens called to deliver verdicts
in civil and criminal trials.
In 1998, the Tennessee Bar Association formed a Jury Reform
Commission to evaluate jury procedures in the state.
The project, which runs Sept. 1 to March 1, will assess the
potential effect of 14 recommendations by the commission.
In a 1999 report, the commission cited areas of the jury
system needing improvements.
Participants in the pilot project include Circuit Court
Judge Robert Childers and Criminal Court Judge James Beasley Jr. of Memphis.
Childers said a nationwide concern and movement is to make
jury service more convenient for citizens who serve on juries, and to try and
streamline the system and to avoid down time the time jurors wait.
The other concern of the pilot project is to make the
process and trial more understandable to a jury. The ultimate goal is to help
the jury arrive at a fair decision.
Akin to the TBA recommendations, Childers said in the 18
years he has been on the bench he has always given preliminary instructions to
the jury before a trial starts.
With the preliminary instruction as part of the pilot
project, we also include, and this is something that I have not done in the
past, some of the substantive instructions on the law, he said.
Another recommendation he has always followed is allowing
jurors take notes during the trial.
Jurors are now given a notebook in which to take notes.
Childers has also instructed attorneys on both sides to include copies of all
trial exhibits as well.
Childers also gives the jury written instructions at the end
of the case and has been doing so for several years.
Something new for Childers as part of the TBA
recommendations is charging the jury on the substantive law before closing
Other states have allowed that, he said but this is new for
So far, I like it. It seems to make the case flow better.
It seems to make the lawyers job in closing arguments easier so they can talk
about the charge that the jury has already heard, he said.
Again, thats one of the goals of this project to make it
easier for the jury to understand.
In Tennessee, he said all 12 jurors must agree to a
unanimous verdict, so its important they fully understand the process.
The jury selection process recommended is different but he
has been using a similar method for several years, he said.
One of the more interesting recommendations and one Childers
has come to appreciate is for jurors to be allowed ask questions of witnesses.
I was really reticent about this but so far its worked out
really well, he said.
As a part of the
pilot project, each participating judge will fill out a survey for each case.
Both lawyers are and jurors are asked to fill out the survey, Childers said.
All of these are being sent to the law school at the
University of Tennessee, and the results will be the blueprint for jury reform
Childers thinks the recommendations should be seen only as
guidelines to help the jury do its job better and should not be mandatory in
Juries are performing a difficult public but very important
service, said Chief Justice Riley Anderson of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Across this state, jurors are performing a difficult public
service that is the linchpin of our justice system.
These good citizens deserve to be treated with the utmost
respect and we need to make their very critical task as informed, convenient
and stress-free as we possibly can. That is the goal of the Supreme Court and
the TBA in studying the issue and implementing this project, he said.