The best of my recollection, recorded?
December 3, 2007 11:43 AM   Subscribe

How shall I record my best recollection of an incident I witnessed that will very likely be the subject of litigation or criminal proceeding?

I witnessed an incident involving flight crew and passengers on an international flight aboard a US flagged airline. The flight terminated in the US. How do I go about noting my recollections in such a way that they are most valuable? (Valuable to whom is not an issue; I want to record as fully and completely as possible everything that I can recall happening.) The incident is fresh in my mind but it will not be by the time court proceedings - which I have no doubt will take place - commence.
posted by jet_silver to Law & Government (22 answers total)
You can write an affidavit and get it witnessed by a notary. That would make it legally admissable in court even if you don't end up testifying.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:51 AM on December 3, 2007

i don't know how legally sound this will be, but write your account of what happened, and email it to yourself. or, print it out, and mail it to yourself (keep it unopened - with the postmark). or, like the other poster said, get it notarized. that way you can assert that the account in question - written, which you may reference in court - is as fresh as possible.

start now!
posted by entropone at 12:01 PM on December 3, 2007

Agreeing with: write it down and get it notarized. Include in that statement the reasons you have for doing so.
posted by beagle at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2007

++entropone: do it now, write it out in as much detail as possible.

Include everything even if you don't think it will ultimately matter. If you are recalling dialog, write it out as verbatim as you can.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2007

While your at it, you could always immortalize your experience here. I'm sure I'm not the only curious reader.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:08 PM on December 3, 2007

Write and draw it out (each step involved, who moved where, whatever).
posted by lhall at 12:27 PM on December 3, 2007

Do what M.C. Loc-Carb! says. You know, to help your memory.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: It is likely when you are questioned by the investigators and prosecutors they are going to ask you if you have any written accounts of what you witnessed.

For example:

Did you take notes about what you witnessed?

Do you keep a physical hard copy journal in which you recorded what you witnessed?

Did you email to anyone an account of what you witnessed?

Did you publish an account of what you witnessed?

If you post here what you witnessed and you are asked to provide a list of any accounts you have written you will be required to produce the url for this thread.
posted by mlis at 12:35 PM on December 3, 2007

Certain things written down outside of court (or legal proceedings, such as depositions) may be inadmissable as hear-say. They'll probably want you to testify from memory in court, not provide your journal. I'm not sure if notarization helps. (IANAL)
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:03 PM on December 3, 2007

You can write an affidavit and get it witnessed by a notary. That would make it legally admissable in court even if you don't end up testifying.

This is is not true. The most that you would be able to do with a written statement would be to refresh your memory with it, prior to testifying.

A written statement, under the circumstances you describe, would almost certainly not be admissible as a substitute for testimony.

Notarizing a written statement does not magically make it admissible; it just establishes for certain who wrote the statement. See my comment here.
posted by jayder at 1:04 PM on December 3, 2007

My suggestion for getting the most out your recollection is to do a data-dump first, then essentially interview yourself, asking follow-on questions to probe your own memory. Where were you sitting? Who was next to you on your left, your right? Who was sitting in front of you? Behind you? What were they wearing? What did they say? Where were you before the incident? How did you get there? What did you have to eat? What did you have to drink? Ice or no ice? How about the person next to you? Were you in the same place all the time or did you move? When you looked at so-and-so, was it over your left or right shoulder? What was in the bin overhead? What color was the suitcase? Was it heavy or light? The point isn't so much the actual questions themselves but whether they might trigger an extra memory or two, particularly after you've 'settled' on the narrative having written it down once.
posted by cairnish at 1:25 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My understanding of the question is that you are seeking only to memorialize your recollection in the most useful way possible, not to create a document that will be admissible in court.

For this purpose, I suggest you type up a "memo to file." This is simpler than it sounds. Just include a header with your name, the date you are writing the memo, and a subject line (e.g. "Notes on 2007 Airline Incident"). As for the content, some tips:

- Write out your recollections in as much detail as you feel comfortable with. More is better, but don't stretch too far to include speculation or facts you really aren't sure about.
- Describe the events in chronological order. Include what happened leading up to the key event (i.e., how you got there and ended up seeing it) and the aftermath (i.e., what happened afterward, what you did about it if anything).
- Try to describe any other witnesses who were nearby and may have seen the same incident you did; this may be helpful information to someone.
- Make sure you describe your vantage point with precision, i.e., where you were sitting, whether your view was obstructed at all, how close you were, etc.
- Use diagrams or drawings of what you saw if that helps you to remember locations/objects/faces/etc. better.
- Keep in mind that if you ever end up testifying, you will no doubt be asked to produce this document and you will be deposed and/or cross-examined about it, so make sure it is clear and internally consistent.
- At bottom it's a memo to yourself, so write it in a way that you will find helpful to read.

As for notarization, that seems like a bit of overkill. Although you will no doubt be questioned about the contents of your memo to file, it's unlikely you will be challenged as to its authenticity. However, if there is reason to believe its authenticity will be challenged (e.g., the event you saw seems unusual/farfetched or you are arguably biased), then notarization or the mail-to-yourself approach described above couldn't hurt. (If you mail it to yourself, obviously you should keep some non-sealed copies!)
posted by brain_drain at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2007

Certain things written down outside of court (or legal proceedings, such as depositions) may be inadmissable as hear-say. They'll probably want you to testify from memory in court, not provide your journal. I'm not sure if notarization helps. (IANAL)

When I've seen people testify in court, they've been allowed to bring notes onto the witness stand and refer to those notes. This is mostly detectives and "experts," not ordinary people, but it seems like you should be allowed to bring notes too. Especially if you have the explanation that you wrote it all down soon after the incident in order to help with your recollection in the event that you were called to testify.

(I am definitely not a lawyer.)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2007

This is actually very simple. Write a memo to yourself now. Review it before you testify. Whatever you are asked, tell the truth.
posted by Mr. Justice at 1:47 PM on December 3, 2007

Sidenote (this is not advice :)) As per the hearsay issue that some have brought up, the federal rules have an exception (which may be followed by a state court, too):
Rule 803. Hearsay Exceptions; Availability of Declarant Immaterial
The following are not excluded by the hearsay rule, even though the declarant is available as a witness:
(5) Recorded recollection. A memorandum or record concerning a matter about which a witness once had knowledge but now has insufficient recollection to enable the witness to testify fully and accurately, shown to have been made or adopted by the witness when the matter was fresh in the witness' memory and to reflect that knowledge correctly. If admitted, the memorandum or record may be read into evidence but may not itself be received as an exhibit unless offered by an adverse party.
posted by Shebear at 1:49 PM on December 3, 2007

If you're trying to remember everything that it might be useful to tape record yourself. Particularly if you're not the type of person who writes well. I know some folks who use a digital recorder to talk through problems or ideas they have.

For you, it sounds like it's a matter of recall and telling the story. If you are better at talking out details or the trajectory of the story that might be a way to go. You could also get someone to "interview" you and that could help inspire you to remember more of the details.

Certainly the earlier you can do this the better you will be. Recall goes down drastically each day you put off doing this.
posted by mulkey at 2:12 PM on December 3, 2007

There are no limits as to what you can do to create notes for yourself. Anything you can create now to refresh your memory later will be acceptable - writing, oral recordings, drawings, even scents or textures. What the court that ultimately hears your testimony wants is as accurate and truthful an account as you can provide, which means you will be able to refresh your memory with whatever it is that will enable you to remember the information you currently have. Depending on the jurisdiction, the process by which you refresh your memory may be different, so you may want to get some free legal advice from a lawyer in the location where proceedings are most likely going to take place, but for the most part, however you will be able to remember is how you create your aide-memoire for yourself.
posted by birdsquared at 3:25 PM on December 3, 2007

get a tape recorder/video and vocally tell the story. I tend to talk/think faster than I write then make notes from that. You can watch/listen to it when court time gets closer it might help you to remember more. just rattle off the info and tiny details as they come to mind... if its video you could have a newspaper w the date to show when it was recorded. it might not be admissable (sp?) in court but it might help you remember little details
posted by meeshell at 4:08 PM on December 3, 2007

I'd sit down with a close friend or family member who was not there and tell them the whole story, with the tape recorder running. Pick a person who knows what you are trying to do and will help you out by asking clarifying questions throughout. Make up names for the people so you can refer to them consistently ("The man sitting across the aisle from me, who I'll call Mr. Solitaire, because he played game after game of solitaire on his laptop...") After the person you gave the story to is clear on the details, ask them to tell the story back to you to see how well they understood it. Then use the recording as a memory aid to write up the memo.
posted by happyturtle at 4:16 PM on December 3, 2007

Also, you can get the seating plan of whatever aircraft you were on by going to Seat Guru and looking for your airline. Print it out, blow up a bunch of enlarged copies at Kinko's, and draw as many diagrams as you need to show what was going on.
posted by happyturtle at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all for the helpful comments. No doubt most will get incorporated. Work on the memo is under way.

In keeping with MLIS' comment I will post the details when the dust settles. It would be too easy to get into a back-and-forth that reveals my bias and I'd prefer not to.
posted by jet_silver at 8:40 PM on December 3, 2007

When I witnessed a car/pedestrian accident and I was the only witness that stuck around, I tape recorded my recollection as soon as I could - the same day, I think. It was a good thing I did, since I was called to give a deposition three yearsafter the accident. An attorney told me that I was allowed to listen to it prior to my deposition as it was "refreshed recollection" or something similar.

The worst part was when I was called for another deposition 2 years later, or five years after the accident, when the other attorney tried to trip me up with the answers I gave in the first deposition.
posted by la petite marie at 9:05 PM on December 3, 2007

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