Whether the trial judge abused his discretion in allowing jurors to take notes and whether the court's cautionary instructions were adequate and proper.
No. A trial court has the discretion but not the obligation to permit note taking by jurors. The court's discretion must be tempered with cautionary instructions in light of the potential problems that note taking can present during trial. The trial judge issued appropriate cautionary instructions to the jury.
Defendant was charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance in
the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the
third degree for the sale of a twenty dollar packet of cocaine to an undercover
police officer in Ithaca, New York. Proposed preliminary and final jury
instructions were distributed to counsel before the trial. Among the instructions
were ones allowing the jury to take notes while cautioning them that it
is not required to take notes and that notes are only used to refresh memories.
Defendant asked that the jury be prohibited from taking notes during the
trial and objected to the charges by the court. The trial court denied
the request, saying that the jurors had been appropriately instructed on
the use of notes. The jury convicted Defendant of all criminal charges.
Upon Defendant's appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court,
holding that the trial court had discretion in deciding whether to allow
jurors to take notes and that the court's cautionary instrustions were
adequate and proper. Defendant appealed, arguing that there was a danger
that the jury would think that they were required to take notes and might
rely on the notes in the jury room. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate
Division's decision, holding that the trial court has the discretion but
not the obligation to permit note taking by jurors during a trial but that
the exercise of that discretion called for adequate and proper cautionary
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