Dateline: January, 2022, Issue 2

What notes do jurors take during trial?

Jurors commonly are allowed to take notes during trial. The content of those notes is of interest to attorneys and scholars.

Dann and colleagues (2004) investigated the content of notes taken by nearly 500 mock jurors who watched a video of a criminal murder trial. While most of the notes (77%) taken by the mock jurors involved factual or evidentiary matters, 23% of the notes referred to judicial instructions and 85% of the mock jurors included references to judicial instructions.

Denne and colleagues (2020) examined how jurors take notes about simple and complex evidence. The researchers analyzed the content of notes taken by mock jurors permitted to take notes (though not required to do so) while watching a video of a bank robbery trial. The trial evidence included testimony from the defendant, fact witnesses, and expert witnesses about mitochondrial DNA. Most mock jurors (83%) mentioned jury instructions before moving on to case-related information; 40% made reference to an expert's qualifications, and 90% mentioned evidence reliability. The majority of references to evidence were gist rather than specific (verbatim) references (65%). Gist references occurred more often for complex evidence (62%) than general evidence (38%), while specific information references occurred more often for general evidence (55%) than complex evidence (45%).

Lorek and colleagues (2019a, 2019b) conducted four studies on juror note-taking. Mock jurors watched either a criminal murder trial or a civil negligence trial that included openings, witness testimony, closings and judicial instructions. Mock jurors noted down proportionally more correct trial information in the criminal trial than in a civil trial. While mock jurors who took notes recalled significantly more trial information than those who did not, what was written down was unrelated to the verdicts the mock jurors rendered.

In sum, jurors take notes on jury instructions as well as evidence and testimony. Most notes are gist references. Complex evidence is more often noted with gist references while simpler evidence is more often noted verbatim. What jurors write is unrelated to the verdicts jurors render.

Source Dann, B.M., Hans, V.P. & Kaye, D.H. (2004). Testing the Effects of Selected Jury Trial Innovations on Juror Coprehension of Contested mtDNA Evidence: Final Technical Report.. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Source Denne, E., Line, E., Plantz, J., Mathers, E. & Neal, T.M.S. (2020, March). What We Can Learn From Jury Note Taking: A Content Analysis. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Psychology-Law Society, New Orleans, LA.

Source Lorek, J., Centifanti, L.C.M., Lyons, M. & Thorley, C. (2019a). The impact of individual differences on jurors' note taking during trials and recall of tiral evidence, and the association between the type of evidence recalled and verdicts. PLOS ONE, 14(2):e0212491.

Source Lorek, J., Centifanti, L.C.M., Lyons, M. & Thorley, C. (2019b). The impact of prior trial experience on mock jurors' note taking during trials and recall of trial evidence. Frontiers in Psychology, 10:47.