Potential Danger of Allowing a Jury to Use a Transcript Is Relying Upon It Rather Than the Tape
In Hill v. State, 549 So. 2d 179, 182 (Fla. 1989), the court found no error where the jury utilized a transcript. In Hill, the defendant did not claim that the transcript was inaccurate, the jury did not carry the transcript into the jury room, and the transcript did not become a focal point of the proceeding.
Therefore, the transcript did not displace the actual tape as the evidence upon which the jury relied.
In explaining the potential dangers from a transcript, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia observed:
A transcript repeating in written form a conversation recorded on tape may help a juror listening to the tape follow the conversation when the tape is of questionable clarity, or contains the voices of multiple speakers who talk over each other or speak in quick succession.
Ironically, the same circumstances that make a transcript helpful to a juror may prejudice the defendant if it is presented without proper safeguards, for the only transcripts worth fighting about are those on which important words may be susceptible to different interpretations.
After all, the jurors are likely to notice a clear discrepancy between a tape and a transcript. United States v. Holton, 325 U.S. App. D.C. 360, 116 F.3d 1536, 1540 (D.C. Cir. 1997) cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1067, 139 L. Ed. 2d 673, 118 S. Ct. 736 (1998).
One of the primary dangers of allowing the jury to use an unadmitted transcript is that it may become the evidence that the jury relies upon rather than the tape itself:
The principal risk of indiscriminately permitting the use of transcripts by jurors is that in the case of a poor quality or unintelligible recording, the jurors may substitute the contents of the more accessible, printed dialogue for the sounds they cannot readily hear or distinguish on the tape and, in so doing, transform the transcript into independent evidence of the recorded statements.
A related risk arises when a transcript attributes incriminating statements to a defendant that the defendant does not admit making.
Placing a transcript in the jury room during deliberations--after the completion of the supervised, adversarial portion of the trial--opens up the possibility that jurors will see the transcript as a neutral exhibit placed before them by the court and increases the chance that the document will be read without the tape recording playing alongside for the purpose of comparison. 116 F.3d at 1540-41.