Jeffrey Dahmer. O.J. Simpson. John Wayne Gacy. The Menendez brothers. One thing these well-known criminal defendants have in common is that their trials were hard on jurors, due to the gruesome nature of the evidence, media coverage, long trial duration, and other factors. The same is true for countless other trials, especially those involving homicide, sexual assault, child abuse, and many other kinds of criminal and civil offenses. Jurors can experience stress in even relatively mundane cases, and courts are increasingly—some would say “finally”—paying attention to the issue.
For example, a bill under consideration by the Oklahoma legislature, House Bill 1833, would provide compensation to jurors for post-trial mental health counseling in heinous cases. The compensation would have to be approved by the court and would be paid for by the court.
I commend members of the Oklahoma legislature for taking jurors’ mental health seriously. However, as is often the case, what seems like a good idea in theory might be difficult to implement. Courts are necessarily concerned about having their limited financial resources stretched even thinner. And even if funds were readily available, questions remain. What type of counseling qualifies? Suppose I am a stressed out juror. Can I obtain compensation whether my provider is a psychologist, psychiatrist, masters-level therapist, social worker, or pastoral counselor? Must the provider specialize in jury stress, or be on a list of court-approved providers? Is it enough for me just to claim that I was traumatized, or must my reaction be compared to a purportedly objective standard? If I’m already seeing a therapist for depression, and we talk about my jury service too, is that covered? Will the court reimburse my insurance company, me for my out-of-pocket expenses, or both?