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Trial courts can let jurors question witnesses, the Ohio Supreme Court said yesterday in a unanimous ruling. A trial judge may accept written questions from jurors and pass them on to witnesses, without infringing on defendants’ rights, the high court said. “The practice of allowing jurors to question witnesses provides for a two-way communication through which jurors can more effectively fulfill their fundamental role as fact finders,” wrote Chief Justice Thomas Moyer. Questions by jurors are allowed in most states at a judge’s discretion, according to the Williamsburg, Va.,-based National Center for State Courts. Five states ban the practice: Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska and Texas. The Colorado Supreme Court adopted rule changes in February to allow jurors to ask questions during criminal trials, and Massachusetts, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Virginia also have upheld the practice. The Ohio justices provided recommendations for ensuring a fair trial, saying trial judges should require jurors to submit their questions in writing and make sure jurors don’t discuss their questions until they are read in court. The justices also said a court should give attorneys on both sides the opportunity to object to a question without jurors present and that the judge should instruct jurors not to be influenced by the court’s refusal to allow certain questions. Attorneys should be permitted to ask follow-up questions, the court said. Yesterday’s ruling came in a case in which a man was found guilty of assault after jurors were allowed to ask witnesses more than a dozen questions. The court’s decision resolved 11 other cases that had been appealed on the same basis.

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