Stress and the Capital Jury: How Male and Female Jurors React to Serving on a Murder Trial*

Article excerpt

Previous research findings gathered by the Capital Jury Project showed that many jurors who served on capital murder trials experienced significant stress and suffered extreme emotional setbacks. The present analysis extends these findings by focusing on gender-specific variations in responses given by male and female jurors as revealed through extensive in-depth interviews. Findings from structured questions and juror narrative accounts about psychological and physical suffering revealed that more females than males reported generalized fear, felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness or isolation, and experienced a significant loss of appetite during the trial. While male and female jurors both mentioned becoming emotionally upset about the crime-scene evidence and trial testimony, experienced sleeping problems, and started using prescription drugs or illicit substances, these issues were discussed more often by females.

The modern capital-punishment system has been the topic of vigorous debate among politicians and legal professionals for sometime. Recently, attention has focused on the psychological and physical well-being of jurors who served on capital cases (Saewitz, 2005; Eaton and Silcox, 2004). The present analysis extends previous research findings about capital jurors' experience of stress and emotional setbacks as uncovered by the Capital Jury Project (Antonio, 2006; Bienen, 1993). This article presents evidence about the severe physical and emotional suffering jurors experienced as a result of their jury service and focuses on gender-specific variations in responses given by male and female jurors during extensive in-depth interviews.

Serving on a jury can be a stressful experience for anyone, regardless of wherher the case is a criminal or civil matter. Certain trials involving kidnapping, sexual assault and battery, or child abuse are traumatic events that may physically and emotionally disturb a juror who is considering the testimony and evidence presented in the courtroom (Shuman, Hamilton, and Daley, 1994). The risk for extreme emotional suffering is especially a concern for jurors who must decide whether a defendant lives or dies.

Jurors serving on a capital murder trial can be adversely affected by their experiences. Indeed, some facets of capital trials are particularly difficult for jurors to endure. The guilt or evidence phase of a capital trial may include gory details about the killing and explicit narrative accounts or testimony from eyewitnesses or crimescene investigators. Researchers in one study found that jurors in murder cases were particularly upset by seeing photographs of the victim and blood-tainted physical evidence from the crime scene, as well as having to sentence the defendant to death (Kaplan and Winget, 1992).

Jurors also have expressed concern about being sequestered. In capital cases jurors may be sequestered for long periods of time, and their access to news or media sources may be severely restricted. Jurors have worried about how being sequestered would "affect them, their family, or their jobs" as well as evoked a general fear response about "where they will sleep and eat and how they will contact their families" (National Center for State Courts, 1998; also see Feldman and Bell, 1991).

Other research has compared differences in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms among jurors in capital cases who made the life-or-death decision. Jurors who imposed a death sentence sustained greater PTSD symptoms than did jurors who imposed a life sentence (Cusack, 1999). Because of these adverse reactions, it is not uncommon for jurors to suffer from other psychological or physical symptoms that result from their jury service, including nightmares, nervousness, tension, and depression (Costanzo and Costanzo, 1994; Shuman, Hamilton, and Daley, 1994; Kaplan and Winget, 1992).

Recent research findings from extensive in-depth interviews with capital jurors showed that many experienced significant stress and suffered extreme emotional setbacks (Antonio, 2006). …