Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jury Service: Reflections--No Note-Taking

My previous post provided information about jury service, based on my recent experience as a potential juror at a voir dire in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. During a voir dire, the judge and attorneys explain the case to be tried and question the jurors so that they can choose the best ones for the particular trial. While I found the judge and the attorneys to be polite and friendly with us, I was nonetheless disturbed by some aspects of the system. 

This post will begin a deeper reflection on those disturbing aspects, beginning with the fact that Louisiana law does not allow jurors to take notes.

In Louisiana, jurors may not take notes but must rely on their memories. I find this disturbing. It might be okay for a trial that lasts just a few hours, but some trials go on for days or weeks or even months. Even in a trial of a few hours, though, I believe that notes would greatly improve the effectiveness of the jurors. Here are my own reasons why.

FOCUS. First, taking notes helps tremendously in focusing my attention. If I have to listen for an extended period of time, my mind is apt to wander. Note-taking prevents this.

VISUAL BIAS. Second, I am a very visual person, so seeing something written down, especially if I have written it myself, helps me tremendously in remembering. I remember far more readily what I have seen in print than what I have only heard spoken. When I used to take tests in school, I would often remember the correct answer by visualizing it printed on the page of my textbook or written in my notebook. I would see, for example, a mental image of the correct answer printed in the last paragraph of page 42. Also, when I would memorize piano music, I would actually memorize the printed score; as I played a piece from memory, I was actually reading the score in my mind.

RELIANCE ON NOTES IN DAILY LIFE. Third, my memory is not as good as it was when I was younger, and I find that, in my life in general, I rely more and more on notes. If I want to remember something, it is important for me to write it down.

STRAIN, RESENTMENT, INDIFFERENCE. Fourth, not being allowed to take notes in something as important as serving on a jury would probably have a negative effect on me that would unfold like this. I would be apt to strain very hard to remember what was being said because remembering what unfolds in the trial is so important to the fate of the person on trial and to society in general. That is, it would be horrid to find an innocent person guilty and subject that person to undeserved punishment, and it would also be horrid to find a guilty person not guilty and subject society to the presence of a dangerous individual. So I would work very hard to remember, and this would be mentally and emotionally exhausting. This exhaustion would lead me to resent the system that required me to work so hard to remember when it would be so much easier if I were simply allowed to take notes. This resentment could have some unconscious effect on my perception of the trial. Alternately, I might find the process of remembering without notes to be simply too much and so decide not to try so hard to remember. My attitude in this alternative scenario would be, "Well, if they don't consider a trial to be an important enough occasion for note-taking, why should I strain to remember?" I would just sit back, listen passively, and whatever I remembered, I would remember, and whatever I didn't remember, I wouldn't remember. None of this is conducive to good juror-ship.

I understand that the prohibition against juror note-taking used to be much more widespread, but that now many states allow jurors to take notes. Louisiana, however, does not. One reason given is that note-taking prevents jurors from observing the facial expressions, gestures, and body language of witnesses. Well, an experienced note-taker like myself can easily take notes and observe those things as well. In fact, those non-verbal communications would be an important part of my notes! Another objection to note-taking is that, during jury deliberation, jurors might tend to trust one juror's notes more than another juror's memory. Well, jurors simply need to be reminded that notes can be mistaken just as memory can be mistaken.

To my mind, the reasons in support of juror note-taking far outweigh the reasons against it. I believe that Louisiana law needs to be changed to allow jurors to take notes. When you have an important event where memory is crucial, YOU TAKE NOTES!

My next post will continue my reflections on my experience with jury service.

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