Michigan has implemented some sweeping changes to the role of jurors and judges in trials, including allowing jury to ask questions of witnesses. I have some reservations about the changes below, but I am most concerned over the ability of judges to summarize the evidence. This could invite considerable bias and influence into trials.
One of the greatest problems that I have with trials in England is the pronounced role of judges in questioning witnesses and summarizing evidence. I have been before some highly biased judges who do everything they can to push a jury toward the prosecution. Many judges are former prosecutors or elected on “tough-on-crime” platforms. Currently, while such judges can rule against you on motions and instructions, the impact is mitigated by the fact that they cannot summarize the evidence. Judges have considerable influence over jurors who may be entirely unaware of bias.
This is not to disparage judges. Most judges are extremely fair and conscientious. However, every lawyer has encountered judges with hostile views of their clients or their claims. Michigan will magnify that problem by allowing this change. It will also increase appeals based on statements made by the court.