The burden jurors carry

For most people, jury service amounts to just a few days in the courtroom. The trial may be low stakes and over in a day, or it may last a full week. Longer, more intensive trails aren’t the norm, but at the end of the bell curve of trial burdens comes the gruesome murder trial that lasts months.

Serving on a murder case can be harrowing for jurors, particularly when the details of the crime are grotesque, as in the case of a home invasion trial recounted by the New York Times on December 31:

Eight of the 12 panelists recently described being in a strange sort of emotional netherworld — a vague place — since the case ended…“I am beginning to feel I am going to go to my grave with this,” said Herbert R. Gram, 77, of Madison.

The jurors shown on the right reported feeling haunted by images and memories long after the trial concluded. It hopefully makes one appreciate the remarkable civic duty that jurors perform. One juror compared it to post-traumatic stress for serving in a war. It’s just one more way that jurors’ service really is analogous to other duties citizens perform.

But it also raises an ethical question: At what point are we subjecting jurors to unnecessarily graphic images in the course of a trial? When it’s necessary to judging the guilt or innocence of a defendant, it seems necessary. But what if judges allow such images for the sake of the grieving family, which wants to make sure the jurors feel the horror of the crime–apart from the evidence’s probative value? Or simply because the prosecution feels entitled to show the gore to influence the jury?

I suspect that analysis of a large sample of cases would reveal many instances where the details–the same ones that now haunt jurors–were gratuitous. That’s not to say jurors might not still have bad dreams, but usually it’s the sounds and images that stay with us more than the facts and figures.

 

 

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About jgastil

John Gastil is Head and Professor in the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, where he specializes in political deliberation and group decision making.
This entry was posted in Conducting trials, Social/political impact of juries. Bookmark the permalink.

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