Pilot program to help jurors cope with gruesome trials

Published April 16, 2007

ORLANDO - Several central Florida public agencies will test a new jury debriefing program that will teach coping mechanisms to jurors assigned to emotionally difficult cases.

The pilot program will pair jurors in Seminole County, in the 18th Judicial Circuit, with volunteer certified crisis responders who will help them deal with what happens in court before they return home.

Legal experts say post-traumatic stress syndrome can happen to jurors who serve on trials where they view gruesome evidence, such as homicides. As a result of their service, some jurors can develop symptoms that include sleepless nights, relationship strains, emotional trauma and physical ailments.

Jury debriefings are short group sessions in which the jurors explore their emotional reaction to the trial and jury service. The debriefers typically describe symptoms associated with juror stress and make recommendations about appropriate stress-management techniques, according to the National Center for State Courts.

"It's a way of preparing them for some of their reactions," said Debra Wagner, who coordinates victim services for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office and has helped plan the pilot program. "It helps normalize the event for them."

The program is slated to start with the next major case.