State v. Williamson

Decision Date16 June 1981
Docket NumberNo. 37210,37210
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

Herbert A. Rivers, Sol., Robert F. Webb, Marietta, for state.

James David Cook, Jean E. Johnson, Jr., F. Gentry Shelnutt, Jr., Marietta, for Edward N. Williamson.

GREGORY, Justice.

We granted certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals reversing Williamson's conviction of simple battery. See Williamson v. State, 156 Ga.App. 856, 276 S.E.2d 60 (1980).

After the jury had been selected and sworn and the witnesses sequestered, but prior to the presentation of opening statements, the trial court instructed the jury as to the procedures that would be followed during the trial. During this orientation, the court informed the jury that should any of them be confused during the proceedings, or have any questions of the witnesses or the court, then that juror should raise his hand. The court would, if the inquiry was proper, clear up the confusion or see that the witness answered the question. After the opening statements were made, the court took a twenty minute recess. After the resumption of the case, and during the presentation of the evidence, several jurors were in fact permitted to ask questions of witnesses. Defendant's attorney, however, made no objection either to the procedure or to any individual question until a motion for new trial was made subsequent to defendant's conviction.

The practice of permitting jurors to directly question witnesses is a dangerous one. Jurors are not schooled in the rules of evidence which govern the posing of questions in a trial and are likely to be personally offended if their questions are objected to. Even those jurisdictions which allow the practice urge that it be exercised with caution. Stinson v. State, 151 Ga.App. 533, 260 S.E.2d 407 (1979). In Georgia, the practice is not permitted. Hall v. State, 241 Ga. 252, 244 S.E.2d 833 (1978).

However, it is also the rule in Georgia, as elsewhere, that objections to irregularities must ordinarily be made at a time when they may be remedied, or they are waived. See Morris v. State, 200 Ga. 471(1), 37 S.E.2d 345 (1946). A failure to object may be excusable in some cases. Stinson, supra, noted the untenable position in which an attorney is placed if he is forced to object to an improper question from a juror. In this case, the trial court expressed his intention to allow jurors to ask questions during the jury orientation prior to the presentation of any evidence and prior to any juror requesting permission to question a witness. This expression of intent was followed by a twenty minute recess, affording counsel the opportunity to object to the procedure outside the presence of the jury under circumstances which would preclude the jury's knowledge of his objection. The failure to object then, or at other times when opportunities existed...

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25 cases
  • Castell v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • 16 Marzo 1983
    ...a time when they may be remedied, or they are waived. See Morris v. State, 200 Ga. 471(1) (37 SE2d 345) (1946)." State v. Williamson, 247 Ga. 685, 686, 279 S.E.2d 203 (1981). Nonetheless, we have been less stringent in our enforcement of a strict contemporaneous objection rule as to error t......
  • State v. Jumpp
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division
    • 19 Enero 1993
    ...supra, 783 F.2d at 413; People v. McAlister, 167 Cal.App.3d 633, 645, 213 Cal.Rptr. 271, 277 (Cal.Ct.App.1985); State v. Williamson, 247 Ga. 685, 279 S.E.2d 203, 204 (1981); State v. Zima, 237 Neb. 952, 468 N.W.2d 377, 380 (1991); Branch v. State, 4 Tenn.Crim.App. 164, 469 S.W.2d 533, 534 (......
  • Ex Parte Malone
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 19 Diciembre 2008
    ...Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Texas have rejected the practice of juror questioning in criminal trials. State v. Williamson, 247 Ga. 685, 279 S.E.2d 203 (1981); State v. Costello, 646 N.W.2d 204 (Minn. 2002); Wharton v. State, 734 So.2d 985 (Miss. 1998); State v. Zima, 237 Neb. 952,......
  • Spitzer v. Haims and Co., 13857
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 26 Febrero 1991
    ...364 S.E.2d 565 (1988) ("direct questions from a juror to a witness are generally not permitted in this state"); State v. Williamson, 247 Ga. 685, 686, 279 S.E.2d 203 (1981) ("[i]n Georgia, the practice [of jurors directly questioning witnesses] is not permitted").9 All of the questions subm......
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