Jury duty can cause stress, study finds

Oct 03, 2002, vol. 25, no. 3
By Marianne Meadahl

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Sonia Chopra (left) knows that courtroom trials can be taxing on those who serve on juries.

The former U.S. jury consultant has studied the phenomenon of juror stress south of the border and recently completed a Canadian study confirming that jury duty can be fraught with stress. She undertook the research for her PhD thesis at SFU and graduates on Oct. 3.
Chopra says that stress reactions among some jurors are similar to those experienced by individuals diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

She also found most jurors want to talk about stressful aspects of their experiences after the trial is over. But in Canada, that isn't always legally possible.

Section 649 of the Criminal Code limits jurors' post-trial discussion and prohibits discussion of jury deliberations, even after the trial is over. Chopra, part of a team of SFU psychology researchers studying juror stress, found that prohibiting jurors from talking about their trial experiences could be detrimental to their health. They are calling for a revision of section 649 to allow researchers to more fully study juror stress and develop solutions.

Besides having access to mental health professionals to help diffuse stress, she says jurors would also benefit from having a more comprehensive pre-trial orientation.

Chopra found that seven of the top 10 stress inducing aspects of jury duty were related to the jury deliberations and reaching a verdict. Chopra, who completed a master's degree in litigation science at the University of Kansas, came to SFU to work with internationally known jury expert James Ogloff, who is now based in Australia.

Their research provides a rare glimpse into juror stress in Canada and is the result of interviews with 80 former criminal jurors from the Greater Vancouver area.

Two-thirds of the jurors interviewed indicated that they experienced stress as a result of their jury duty, and over 80 per cent believed that other jurors they had served with had experienced stress during jury duty. Juror stress may impact upon jury decision making. More than 60 per cent of interviewed jurors thought that stress had an effect on the thinking of some jurors. “The research shows there is a critical need to find ways to reduce the level of stress faced by jurors both during and after trials,” says Chopra, who has returned to consulting work. She recently joining the U.S. based National Jury Project, at the firm's Oakland office. Chopra has since been invited by one of the members of her thesis committee - B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith - to speak to the Lower Mainland legal community about juror stress. Her thesis is also being distributed in courtrooms, at Smith's request, to help educate those working in the system about the issue.

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