Jurors submit 281 questions to judge in hiring corruption trial

Inquisitive jurors in a Boston federal trial submitted 281 questions for witnesses and lawyers to the judge overseeing the corruption trial of three former probation officials.

U.S. District Judge William Young posed scores of those questions to witnesses in the trial of three Massachusetts probation officials accused of handing out jobs in exchange for favors from state lawmakers, the Boston Globe reports.

Former probation chief John O’Brien and two of his former deputies are accused of running the probation department like a criminal enterprise. Defense lawyers contend their clients’ actions amounted to typical patronage practices and they weren’t illegal.

Jurors asked about fraud and about the hiring process used by a probation department panel, the story says. They also sought legal definitions, including the definition of “racketeering.”

The Globe interviewed lawyers and law professors for their take on the practice of allowing juror questions during trial. On the one hand, allowing questions can help jurors feel involved and engaged in the trial process. Questions can also help cover gaps in witness testimony.

But Boston defense lawyer Rosemary Scapicchio told the Globe that allowing questions is “a dangerous step.”

“In order for you to generate those questions, you have to be an advocate for one side or the other, and that’s where the problem comes in,” Scapicchio said. “You shouldn’t want a juror to be in a position to advocate for one side or the other before all of the evidence comes in.” She also said the government has the burden of proof and jurors shouldn’t be allowed to help the prosecution.

Others said a juror may feel slighted if his or her question isn’t asked, or jurors may compete with one another to get their questions asked.

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