Jurors are more likely to correctly remember vital information in trials if they are given a structured notebook with headings and other cues to help them record the evidence.
According to new research by Dr Lorraine Hope and colleagues from the University of Portsmouth’s Department of Psychology, serving in a jury is complex and challenging and having a structured notebook serves them and possibly justice better.
The research is published in Legal and Criminal Psychology.
In experiments, those given structured notebooks recalled, on average, 20 per cent more correct details about the trial than those who did not take notes. This group also recalled more than those who were simply given plain paper on which to take their own freehand notes.
The vast majority of the jurors using structured notebooks also reported that they found the note-taking helpful in reaching their verdict, compared to about half of those who were using plain paper.
Dr Hope said: “There was a significant difference between the groups for the amount of trial information reported correctly and this lends weight to calls for more structured help for jurors.
“Structured note-taking helps improve both the experience for the jurors and the quality of information they can recall.
“People entering a court as a juror are entering an environment and a process that is challenging and unfamiliar to them. Some feel ill at ease with the case, especially if it involves a difficult or upsetting crime, some feel the burden of justice heavy on their shoulders and others can be overwhelmed by complex or confusing evidence.”
This is the first study to draw on lessons learned from educational and cognitive psychology to develop a generic structured notebook as a juror aid.
Previous studies of note-taking by jurors have found those who take notes tend to remember more relevant details, remain more attentive during the case, and feel more involved resulting in greater levels of satisfaction. No previous studies have been done using structured notebooks with separate headings for opening statements, witness testimonies, questions and answers from prosecution and defence lawyers and judge’s summing up and instructions.
Juror note-taking has been described as the “least controversial of all innovations” to help ensure the justice system is fair.
Dr Hope said: “There have been some calls for jurors to be prohibited from taking notes because it has been felt taking notes would be distracting or allow those with the most detailed notes to exert undue influence on other jurors with fewer notes.
“But research has shown time and again that taking notes helps ensure jurors remember legal details better. Remembering the evidence is important as when jurors come together in the jury room they often discuss the evidence from memory of the testimony. Improving the accuracy of recalled information via reliable notes is important for ensuring justice.”
The study examined 58 people aged 18 to 70 acting as jurors in a mock trial. Each was assigned to one of three groups – structured note-taking, plain paper note-taking, and no note-taking, and afterwards all were asked 48 cue-recall questions to test their memories of the trial. The jurors were not asked to deliberate but were asked to give their individual verdicts which, despite the differences in recall of trial detail, were very similar, with 83 per cent returning a guilty verdict and nearly all saying they were very confident they had made the right decision.
Future research work will examine whether taking more detailed notes and more accurate notes will improve the deliberation process – and, critically, lead to improved decision making in cases where the evidence is particularly complex or challenging.