Dateline: December, 2021, Issue 2

Which jurors take notes during trial?

While most jurors take notes during trial when allowed to do so, not every juror chooses to do so.

Dann and colleagues (2004) report on juror note-taking among 480 community members who watched a 70 minute videotaped trial filmed in a real courtroom using legal professionals to play the parts of the judge and lawyers. The vast majority of jurors (88%) opted to take notes. Reasons most often cited by the 12% of jurors who opted not to take notes were lack of need for notes (42%) and distraction (26%). Of jurors who opted not to take notes, 10% said they oppose allowing jurors to take notes.

Dann and colleagues also report that jurors choosing to take notes could be differentiated along certain sociodemographic characteristics from non-note-taking jurors. Jurors with at least some college education were over twice as likely to take notes as those without a high school degree (89% vs. 40%); jurors having post-graduate education were the most likely to take notes (98%). Women also were more likely than men to take notes (92% vs. 84%). Notably, neither jurors' racial and ethnic identity nor their age affected their likelihood of note-taking.

Lorek and colleagues (2019a) explored whether prior jury service influenced juror note-taking. In this research, mock jurors watched two trial videos with the two viewing sessions separated by a week. One video involved a criminal murder trial and the other a civil negligence trial. Half of the mock jurors watched the civil trial first, while the other half watched the criminal trial first. The trial videos included opening statements, witness testimony, closing arguments and judicial instructions. Mock jurors were informed they would be allowed to take notes during the trial and were provided with a notepad and pen. Prior jury experience played a role in juror note-taking. In the second viewing session, regardless whether criminal or civil, jurors wrote down both more correct trial information and more critical trial evidence.

In other research, Lorek and colleagues (2019b) conducted three studies exploring how juror note-taking was influenced by jurors' handwriting speed, short-term memory capacity and attentional span. In these three studies, mock jurors were assigned either to take notes or not to take notes while watching a video of a criminal murder trial. The trial video included openings, witness testimony, closings and judicial instructions. While note-taking jurors recalled significantly more correct trial information, jurors with faster handwriting speed, higher short-term memory capacity and higher sustained attention capacity noted down, and later recalled, the most critical trial evidence.

While the vast majority of jurors take notes during trial when permitted to do so, some jurors see little need for, and sometimes are opposed to, note-taking. Neither race nor age differentiate which jurors are likely to take notes. Jurors are more likely to take notes if they have previous jury experience, are college educated, are women, are fast handwriters, have high short-term memory or have high sustained attention capacity.

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

SourceLorek, J., Centifanti, L.C.M., Lyons, M. & Thorley, C. (2019a). The impact of prior trial experience on mock jurors' note taking during trials and recall of trial evidence. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, Article 47, pp. 1-10.

SourceLorek, J., Centifanti, L.C.M., Lyons, M. & Thorley, C. (2019b). The impact of individual differences on jurors' note taking during trials and recall of trial evidence, and the association between the type of evidence recalled and verdicts. PLOS ONE, 14(2):e0212491, pp. 1-25.