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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Michigan’s New Jury Rules Set to Take Effect

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In a little more than a week, jurors in the State of Michigan will have an opportunity to participate more fully in the trial process. Beginning September 1, jury members will be able to (among other things) receive and review a trial notebook, take notes, ask questions, and discuss evidence prior to deliberation. These changes are the culmination of a jury reform pilot program that began over two years ago. And like any alteration of a time-honored institution, the new jury rules have been met with both support and criticism.

In addition to my day job as a trial lawyer and part time blogger, I serve on several professional committees. Eight years ago I was appointed to the Committee on Model Civil Jury Instructions by the Michigan Supreme Court. The Committee is responsible for crafting jury instructions that reflect Michigan civil law. At the conclusion of a trial, the judge reads these instructions to the jury, advising the panel about how to deliberate, what issues need to be determined, and what evidence they may consider.

Under our civil justice system, people have a Constitutional right to have their case determined by a jury. In an effort to get jurors more fully engaged with the law and facts of a particular trial, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted in June many of the changes from the pilot program. The hope is that jurors will be better equipped to faithfully discharge their duty as the “judges of the facts.” The reform process is ongoing, and the Committee on Model Civil Jury Instructions has published new PROPOSED instructions and solicited comment.

I was recently asked to speak at a State Bar of Michigan seminar (held in conjunction with the Michigan Association for Justice and Michigan Defense Trial Council) on these new rules and I agree with Jackson attorney Al Brandt. While the new rules may give the jurors some additional options, "It’s much ado about nothing."