A number of recent gruesome cases in the news, especially one particularly gruesome case in Canada, as well as some of our recent class discussions have prompted me to question just what sort of services are available to jurors who have had to serve on cases that might have been psychologically traumatic or taxing. Nationally only a small handful of states offer any sort of statutorily authorized counseling, though in recent years some more states, such as Connecticut, have experimented with pilot counseling programs.
In researching this topic, I was pleased to see that Texas, which while generally conservative on a most issues but more progressive on a number of health and civil society issues than one would immediately think, is one of the few states that offers government paid for counseling to jurors after traumatic cases.
The push for the Texas law came as a result of a mother whose daughter was brutally murdered not being able to bring herself to view crime scene photos of her murdered child that a medical examiner opined that no one should be made to see. The mother was so concerned for the jurors after seeing their reactions to the photos that she contacted her state representative and asked him to write and push the counseling law that was ultimately enacted.
The Texas law was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in 2007 and originally offered up to ten hours of counseling to jurors in particularly gruesome cases involving physical trauma crimes. The law, which is discussed in more detail here, was amended in 2009 to add in other gruesome crimes, including crimes against children. Unfortunately though, the law, while laudable, is not mandatory and only authorizes counties to offer programs and does not offer funding to counties that do offer such programs, though this has not apparently been a deterrent to many of the larger population counties in the state.
There is some significant evidence indicating that jury service is taxing and stressful in the best of circumstances and downright traumatic in many cases, and there is also evidence that some sort of counseling for jurors who have been through traumatic cases is beneficial in helping them recover from traumatic aspects of their own jury service. Because of the gruesome and traumatic nature of many of the cases heard every day by jurors performing their civic duty one can only hope for more research into the effectiveness of juror counseling programs.
Hopefully future studies and an increase in evidence showing the benefit of juror counseling programs will motivate more states to offer and to fully fund counseling services for jurors, at least for those jurors who while performing their civic duty have to view and weigh the sort of evidence most people would probably hope to never encounter.