Attending court and taking notes on hearings can seem daunting at first, but there are a few ways to be prepared prior to stepping foot in the courtroom.
Get Motions And Material Up for Discussion
Whether you’re sitting through a full trial or a simple status conference, all court cases have a series of filings related to the case. Get a copy of the filings relevant to the court hearing you are going to attend. For example, reading both the defense and the prosecution briefs ahead of Alex Murdaugh’s status conference allowed the team to know what arguments each side would make in favor and against. Reading the documents filed ahead of a court date makes it easier to follow what’s happening in the courtroom — especially if you’ve never been before.
Decide Your Method for Taking Notes
The ability to use electronic devices varies from courthouse to courthouse and sometimes depends on the judge and even the case itself. If you are allowed to take a laptop computer and have decent typing skills, that is a great option for note-taking. For others, a pen and paper will suffice — or may be the only option if you can’t take a laptop. Another option is to record the hearing with your phone or with a freestanding voice recorder, but confirm with the clerk of court that it’s okay to record sometime before the day of the hearing. You can find contact information for the clerk of court by googling the county where the hearing is taking place plus the phrase “clerk of court.”
Have a Backup Plan
Pencils break, pens run out of ink, and computer batteries die. Always make sure you’ve got a backup way to take notes. That can include packing extra pens and paper and/or making sure you brought your laptop cord.
Get There Early to Sit Up Front
The view is better and it’s easier to hear conversations if you sit up front. Sometimes, front rows may be reserved for attorneys and court staff. A bailiff in the courtroom will let you know if a particular seat is reserved.
Method to the Madness
As for what to write down while taking notes, it’s very much like taking notes during lectures in schools, there are just more speakers to keep up with. Use the documents being discussed at the hearing as a road map for what to pay attention to. Here are some things to listen for and make note of:
- By which party
- Judge’s ruling
- Who entered the exhibit
- Its number
- What the exhibit is
- Name, occupation, how they’re related to the case
- Which side called them
- Notes on their testimony
Double Check Yourself
If you were able to record the hearing, then checking yourself will be easy. You may also find that a local news channel had footage. In the case of large trials, you may even have footage from CourtTV or another justice-related entity to double check what was said in court.
For most court hearings, however, you’ll be on your own to check your notes for accuracy. The clerk of court can help fill in some of your questions, but there will be formal filings at the conclusion of hearings and trials. The most important thing about hearings is understanding what the judge ruled. For trials, the most important thing is the verdict.
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Contact Beth Braden
Beth Braden is an award-winning journalist whose mastery of the deep dive is evident in her work.
In addition to Braden’s experience writing about local government, crime and courts, and engaging features from her home state of Tennessee, her byline appears on several internationally-known websites. She is passionate about communicating complex information in an easy-to-understand manner and loves to pore over public records.
Braden joined Luna Shark Media in 2023 armed with a love of truth as she seeks out data from the darkest places, drags it into the light, and provides illuminating analysis. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, strange museums, and good cups of coffee.