Are Jurors At Risk For PTSD?

"One of the burdens of being a juror is the isolation you have.  A juror is the best judge of their own mental health and their own state. With some jurors, it may take longer if they're feeling negative impacts."   For David Farrant, a juror a 2014 murder trial, the aftermath was particularly rocky as he was later diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During his five months as a juror in the case of Farshad Badakhshan, who was eventually convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, Carina Petrache, Farrant was obliged to hear often-graphic testimony as well as the emotional statements from family members of the victim.   After the trial was over, he reported feeling relief but was also expecting some sort of debriefing for jurors, including recommendations if they needed counseling.  Instead, they were simply dismissed.

Having since become an advocate for juror counseling, Farrant insists that no juror should be expected to suffer in silence.   "If they're feeling like they need to talk to somebody after the trial has concluded, there shouldn't be any negativity about that," he said in an interview with the Canadian Press.  " They shouldn't feel like it's a continued burden for them, like it's their job to feel and just hold those emotions inside.  "Some people might feel ...it's their burden to suffer alongside with the families. That's not the case."

Farrant also expressed concern for the jurors in the recently completed Douglas Garland trial.   Garland has been convicted for the murder of a couple and their five-year-old grandson.   During the course of the trial, jurors were exposed to evidence that included graphic pictures and videos of the bodies and how they were disposed of.   Even the judge in the case expressed concerns over what  jurors were seeing and how it would effect them.   "High-profile cases like this one have doubtless involved additional sources of stress due to the length of the trial, the significant media and public interest in this case and, most particularly, the disturbing evidence that was introduced," Justice David Gates said to the jury at one point in the proceedings.  "Symptoms of stress may appear as any number of physical and psychological reactions, including increased anxiety and frustration, disruption to sleep and eating routines, depression, withdrawal, anger and even hostility."

While the Ontario government has recently launched a free counseling service for jurors, other provinces have yet to follow suit.  Though the likelihood of a juror developing full-blown PTSD is relatively low, some people may be especially vulnerable, especially if they have a history of exposure to trauma.   And the risk of secondary trauma isn't limited to jurors.   Lawyers can also develop problems with posttraumatic stress.   According to Ian Savage, head of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association based in Calgary, Alberta, even experienced lawyers can be affected by the cumulative stress that can come from years of exposure to traumatic testimony.

At present, it remains up to jurors to handle the stress of their exposure on their own and to seek help if problems develop.  Whether post-trial debriefing may prevent future problems, courts across the country are only just beginning to ensure that it is available when needed.

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