Title: Helping Jurors Out: Post-Verdict Debriefing for Jurors in Emotionally Disturbing Trials
Author: Leigh B. Bienen
Publisher: Indiana Law Journal
Issue: Volume 68, Issue 4, Article 13, pp. 1333-1355
Description: Lawyers and judges sometimes forget that being a juror is a human experience on a continuum with other human experiences. For many it is a rewarding experience, for some it is frustrating, and for others, perhaps, it is simply another experience, one that is a little different from the ordinary.
Lawyers and judges sometimes forget that being a juror is a human experience on a continuum with other human experiences. For many it is a rewarding experience, for some it is frustrating, and for others, perhaps, it is simply another experience, one that is a little different from the ordinary. Being on a jury is also, of course, a legal event, structured by rules and procedures, some of which are designed to distance all participants from what would be their spontaneous human responses. Lawyers and judges tend to be more concerned with the technical aspects of the experience than are jurors-people for whom it is probably a relatively short and isolated episode, unconnected to the rest of their lives. However, being a juror is an experience people remember long after the trial, and it may be an emotionally disturbing experience.
The more we learn about jurors, especially from jurors themselves, the more we see that the process of arriving at a collective judgment involves complicated interactions between emotions, experience, intelligence, and character for both individuals and the group, interactions that probably cannot and should not be disentangled. This is why we ask untrained jurors, rather than professional judges or lawyers, to make the most troublesome judgments-we want them to judge us first as individual human beings and then as members of the society we all live in. And they do. The practice of counseling or debriefing jurors by trained mental health professionals is still in an experimental stage. Little research has been done, and documentation of cases is sporadic.’ Counseling has been ordered for jurors in very few cases, probably less than two or three dozen. The exact number is impossible to determine since no national or state agency has yet attempted to keep a centralized record of all cases in which juror debriefing has occurred.
If professional assistance or counseling for jurors after exceptionally disturbing or stressful trials becomes more widespread, the criminal justice system will necessarily address some of the following questions: What kinds of cases require debriefing? Under what authority do courts call for such counseling? What training and expertise should the people who provide such assistance have? How do trial court judges or administrators find expert assistance or arrange for the training of personnel in their jurisdiction? Is there any role for assistance to jurors during the deliberation process? Could the fact of post-verdict counseling have an effect upon the validity of a verdict? Who pays the costs for professional counseling of jurors? Is juror debriefing effective or necessary? Should debriefing be offered more routinely in the future?
This Essay includes information and commentary relevant to these questions. My own experience and observations are based upon research I have conducted on homicide and capital trials in New Jersey over the past decade; discussions with researchers conducting interviews with capital jurors in several states under the auspices of a National Science Foundation Project designed to study alternative models of juror decision making under different types of capital statutes;’ informal interviews with people who have been involved in providing post-verdict debriefing, developing therapeutic…