Verdict - Spring 2018 - 31

> FEATURE

Hernandez v. State:

Empowering Jurors
to Seek the Truth
BY HON. WESLEY C. TAILOR AND HON. ROBERT C. I. MCBURNEY
STATE COURT OF FULTON COUNTY; SUPERIOR COURT OF FULTON COUNTY

G

eorgia's pattern jury charges enshrine the notion of "a fair-minded, impartial juror honestly seeking the truth." Our Supreme
Court agrees: "the factfinder does have the task of seeking the truth" (Moore v. State, 283 Ga. 151, 155, 2008). Truth-seeking
for jurors has traditionally been a passive affair: they watch and listen until they are dispatched to the jury room to begin
their deliberations. The lawyers (with an occasional assist from the judge) determine what it is the jurors see and hear and
present that information through exhibits and witness testimony.

But what if the truth-seeker does not understand what was said?

The Supreme Court recently affirmed and refined this procedure of

How is the judge (or the advocate) to know? Or what if the lawyers

empowering jurors to seek the truth through asking questions of wit-

willfully or accidentally fail to cover a relevant issue, such as the light-

nesses in Hernandez v. State, 299 Ga. 796 (2016), a murder prosecution

ing at the scene of the crime/incident? Can the truth-seeker find out

in which the trial judge permitted written inquiries from jurors.

more about the facts of the case being presented? The answer is yes
(again, with an assist from the judge).
Georgia courts have long held that "jurors are not permitted during
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trial to interrogate witnesses" (Hall v. State, 241 Ga. 252, 256, 1978).

We both embrace and employ this procedure and have found it to
improve the level of juror participation and to reduce the Google-inspired
temptation to conduct impermissible outside research. Here is how it
works:

However, nearly 30 years ago, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that

Prior to opening statements, as part of our preliminary instructions, we

trial courts may allow jurors to question witnesses indirectly, i.e.,

explain to the jury how witness testimony will take place. We then instruct

via a process mediated by the judge (Matchett v. State, 257 Ga. 785,

them essentially as follows:

786-787, 1988). ("The trial court properly instructed the jury as to the

The party or attorney calling the witness to testify will ask questions

appropriate form of asking questions" - the trial court instructed the

of that witness. Once that attorney/party is done, the opposing attorney/

jury to "submit any questions they might wish to have answered to

party will ask any questions they may have of that witness. Then, I will ask

the trial court in writing at the conclusion of the witness' testimony.")

you whether you have any questions of that witness. If you do, you must
write your questions down. (The jurors are given notepads and pencils

Spring 2018 31


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Verdict - Spring 2018

President’s Message
How I Obtained Justice: Sudden Emergency Doctrine
Thank You to Outgoing Verdict Chairman, Madeleine Simmons
Look Before You Leap: Conducting Jury Focus Groups Before Trial
Voir Dire In Low Speed, Soft Tissue Injury Cases
Defeating Reptile Theory Motions in Limine
Leading the Jury Down the Right Path: Framing Your Case During Voir Dire
Hernandez v. State: Empowering Jurors to Seek the Truth
Exploding Takata Airbags From Cover-Up To Accountability
Using Simple Technology to Pick a Better Jury
Case Updates: Who Really Loses When Medical Funding Becomes an Issue at Trial?
Professional Practice Pointers: Voir Dire, An interview with Cobb County State Court Judge Allison Barnes Salter
Dig In To Do Good: Making the World a Better Place
Welcome New GTLA Members!
Champion Members
Meet The Experts
Index to Advertisers/Advertiser.com
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Intro
Verdict - Spring 2018 - bellyband1
Verdict - Spring 2018 - bellyband2
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover1
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover2
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 3
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 4
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 5
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 6
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 7
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 8
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 9
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 10
Verdict - Spring 2018 - President’s Message
Verdict - Spring 2018 - How I Obtained Justice: Sudden Emergency Doctrine
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 13
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 14
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Thank You to Outgoing Verdict Chairman, Madeleine Simmons
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Look Before You Leap: Conducting Jury Focus Groups Before Trial
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 17
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 18
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 19
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 20
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Voir Dire In Low Speed, Soft Tissue Injury Cases
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 22
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 23
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 24
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 25
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Defeating Reptile Theory Motions in Limine
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 27
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 28
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Leading the Jury Down the Right Path: Framing Your Case During Voir Dire
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 30
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Hernandez v. State: Empowering Jurors to Seek the Truth
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 32
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 33
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Exploding Takata Airbags From Cover-Up To Accountability
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 35
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 36
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Using Simple Technology to Pick a Better Jury
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Case Updates: Who Really Loses When Medical Funding Becomes an Issue at Trial?
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 39
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Professional Practice Pointers: Voir Dire, An interview with Cobb County State Court Judge Allison Barnes Salter
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Dig In To Do Good: Making the World a Better Place
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 42
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Champion Members
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 44
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Meet The Experts
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Index to Advertisers/Advertiser.com
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover3
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover4
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