Jurors can be subjected to gruesome and horrific pieces of evidence throughout the course of a criminal trial. Shocking testimonies may be given in some cases that are emotionally distressing.
For cases that are higher profile, seeing graphic evidence and being under the scrutiny of the media can result in high levels of juror stress. It’s also important that the juror doesn’t have much familiarity with a case that’s high profile as it can contribute to bias. Because of these aspects, it can be difficult to select a jury when the case involves graphic evidence.
The beginning stages of jury selection started recently in the quadruple homicide trial of the individual charged in the 2015 murder of a family in their home, sometimes called the “mansion murders”. Both attorneys have emphasized the complication in locating a group of citizens to undertake the devastating case. The suspect was charged with 20 felony counts and first-degree murder of four people, including a 10-year old.
Potential jurors were brought in to answer initial questions to “de-select” some jurors who might demonstrate bias. The trial is expected to last 8-weeks because the suspect has pleaded “not guilty”. Fortunately, the judge inquired as to whether anyone would have trouble being present for a trial involving graphic crime scene photos and testimony.
Jury selection must aim to exclude the individuals who likely won’t be able to see photographs of the horrific evidence and who won’t be able to make an objective decision regarding the case. It can be helpful to consider the individual’s former life experience in relation to the current trial. For instance, if a juror was previously involved in a situation where their house was broken into, they may bring strong bias into the courtroom for this case in particular.
In a document filed with the court, the suspect’s public defenders brought up their apprehensions regarding the graphic evidence and how jurors may respond. Specifically, photographs of the victims’ severely damaged bodies were of concern and jurors were asked ahead of time if they would be able to consider such evidence without allowing themselves to be impacted by emotion.
“It is essential to have jurors who have the impartial ability to determine whether or not the council had proven the suspect guilty because mistakes in jury selection in criminal cases can be a legal basis for appeal,” remarked John Tumelty, Atlantic City criminal defense attorney.
It’s not uncommon for jurors to feel unprepared for seeing and hearing traumatic factual details of nearby incidents while serving their civic duty. However, court officials stand by the assertion that jurors need to see the horrific evidence and photos in order to help them reach an appropriate verdict.
While it may not be possible for a juror to shut off their emotional reaction to the graphic evidence, courts can take steps to try and help reduce the trauma by offering support through counseling services.