ST. PAUL (AP) -- With certain restrictions, jurors can lawfully ask questions during criminal trials, the state Court of appeals ruled.
Tuesday's ruling reversed long-standing courtroom rules that have disallowed jurors to take an active role in criminal cases.
The decision stems from the case of Gerard Costello, who was stopped in 1999 by Mankato police on suspicion of drunken driving. Costello told police he was driving only to avoid being assaulted by two men in a Mankato boarding house.
During the trial, a juror submitted a written question to the judge, which was then asked of Mankato police officer Dan Padilla, who was a witness at the time. The note asked, "When you first saw Costello's pickup, did it appear to be moving with any urgency, as if to get away in a hurry?" Padilla said no. Costello was found guilty.
During the past few years, Judge Norbert Smith has allowed jurors, in certain cases, to submit written questions to him while the case is being argued. The practice went unchallenged for years until Costello's case, which resulted in an appeal of Smith's unorthodox ways to a higher court.
"I've always been concerned about our typical jury practice," Smith said. "And a lot of people have become very suspicious of our jury system."
Costello's appeal said Smith's decision to allow jurors to ask questions compromised the trial's fairness. The appeals court disagreed.
The court approved of Smith's system because he told the jurors before the trial that they could submit questions.
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