Beginning Monday, Pennsylvania jurors will be permitted to take notes during criminal trials that are expected to last more than two days, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Two years ago, the state allowed note-taking in civil trials. “What I’m concerned about is when you get some of the longer trials, people are going to be taking notes and not making the observations,” Common Pleas Judge David Cashman said. “I don’t want them taking notes and missing the witness’s demeanor.” Cashman two years ago declared a mistrial in a case before it was started because jurors reported that a member of the panel had been taking notes while waiting for proceedings to begin.
Under new rules, jurors may not take notes while a judge gives final instructions, nor during breaks in the trial. At each break or recess, notepads and writing utensils will be collected by court officers and held until the trial resumes. Jurors can use the notes only during the trial and deliberations. Afterward, before the verdict is rendered, the notes are to be collected by the court and destroyed. Jurors’ notes cannot be used by attorneys to request new trials. Jurors will be advised not to be so distracted by note-taking that they do not pay full attention to evidence and witness credibility evaluations. “If people get fixated on notes, they’re not going to get the full flavor of the trial,” Cashman said. “All that nonverbal testimony is part and parcel of what you have in a trial. There’s also a legitimate concern about people worrying about who takes the most notes.”