Thursday, October 13, 2005

Juror Stress

[RESEARCH] Is being on a jury stressful? Yes, in many ways -- from the disruption of one's daily routine to the burden of making a decision about someone's life or property. In a new article, two professors in psychology and law survey the research and outline possible responses. Monica K. Miller & Brian H. Bornstein, Juror Stress: Causes and Interventions, 30 T. Marshall L. Rev. 237 (2004), Find Result - 30 THUMARLR 237.

One intervention is debriefing -- and sometimes counseling -- particularly after a trial with upsetting testimony and evidence such as the Jeffrey Dahmer trial. One interesting question is whether offering such help to jurors would skew verdicts. If jurors in a capital case knew that counseling would be available, would they wrestle less with the magnitude of the decision to impose the death penalty?

The authors "discuss a variety of procedural changes (e.g., allowing jurors to take notes) courts can make" that would alleviate some stress -- e.g., the stress of dealing with complex testimony.

The final section of the article

concludes that, because jurors serve such an important function in our justice system, it is important that measures be taken to protect them from serious harm due to the stresses of jury duty. We suggest a two-phase intervention that includes a pre-trial video that prepares jurors for the stresses they may experience and a variety of post-trial interventions tailored to the needs of each individual juror.

This reminds me of my own reactions to jury duty. The last time I served it was in municipal court, and I was glad both that it was only four days away from my job and that the case was only possession of stolen property -- not a case with lots of upsetting or tragic facts.

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