Are Jurors Allowed To Take Notes During Criminal Cases In Florida?

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

Jurors are allowed to take notes when they are in court. The court will provide a series of pens and paper with pads so that the jurors can take notes. There are some very specific instructions about how to take notes in a criminal case. The judge will tell the jury, “If you would like to take notes during the trial, you may do so. On the other hand, you are not required to take notes if you do not want to.” The judge goes on to state, “You will be provided with a notepad and a pen for use if you wish to take notes”, and then the judge will state very clearly that any notes you take will be for your personal use. You should not take them with you from the courtroom. During the recesses, the bailiff will take possession of your notes and will return them to you when you reconvene. After you have completed your deliberations, the bailiff will return your notes to the judge.

The instruction goes on to say that at the conclusion of the trial, all juror notes will be destroyed. The judge will also give a caution that if you take notes, do not get so involved in note-taking that you become distracted from the proceeding. Your notes should be used only as aid for your memory. The judge will instruct that “You should rely on your memory of the evidence and you should not be unduly influenced by the notes of other jurors”. When jurors begin to deliberate, they start comparing notes, and sometimes there is a difference in notes. The notes can be used to jog the memory, but should not be used as a form of evidence. The final line in that jury instruction says, “Notes are not entitled to any greater weight than each juror’s memory of the evidence”. So, it is very important that while you take notes, you use them to jog memory and not as a verbatim reflection of testimony.

What Preliminary Instructions Will The Jury Get Before Hearing Any Evidence In A Criminal Case?

Jury Instruction 2.1 Preliminary Instructions states “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, you have been selected and sworn as the jury to try the case of State of Florida v. [The name of the defendant]”. Jurors cannot render a lawful verdict in Florida unless they have been sworn. So, just like witnesses are sworn to tell the truth, the jurors also are sworn to render a fair verdict. The instruction will go on and say, “This is a criminal case. The defendant is charged with”, and then they will read out the crime charged. “The definition of the elements of the crime charge will be explained to you later”. Every crime has what are known as Elements. A defendant has a right to a fair trial, does not have to prove innocence, and the state must prove guilt by a legal standard known as Beyond and to the Exclusion of Every Reasonable Doubt. A reasonable doubt may arise from circumstances during a criminal trial, but they are all going to relate to what are called elements. For each crime, there are several elements the prosecution must prove. First, the state must prove that a crime was committed. That is an element. The state must prove the defendant is the person who committed the crime. The remaining specific elements will be explained later in the case. The judge will go on to say that your verdict must be based solely on the evidence or lack of evidence and the law. The evidence is governed by the rules of evidence under chapter 90 in Florida, as well as what we call Case Law.

Later, the judge will state that after the instructions are given, the alternate juror will be released and then you will retire to render your verdict. The judge will also, in this instruction, talk about different types of evidence, such as whether or not there is testimony, and whether or not there are exhibits. The judge will explain that there will be an opening statement by each side, witnesses will be called and testify under oath, and that they will be examined and cross-examined by the attorneys. Documents may or may not be entered into evidence and physical items may or may not be entered into evidence. The judge will state that you should not form any definite or fixed opinions on the merits of the case until you have heard all of the evidence, the argument of the lawyers, and the instructions on the law. Until that time, you should not discuss the case among yourselves. There will be recesses during the trial, the judge addresses this and specifically states, “You can talk about anything you want as long as it is not about this case”. The reason for this is very simple. If jurors talk about the case during a recess, their minds may become made up, and then crucial evidence or lack of evidence will be ignored, and an improper verdict will be given.

Disclaimer: This article is in response to questions frequently asked of Mr. Cobb and is an unedited dictation transcript. Just like talk to text on your smartphone, there may be misspelled words or sentence fragments.

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