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NC Tries To Help Jurors Cope With Emotional Toll Of Trials

Jurors are some times put through the wringer. There's the time in the courtroom away from work and home, but there can be an emotional toll too. North Carolina has started a program aimed at helping jurors deal with the stress that can come with a trial. Some trials can bring up extremely graphic and disturbing evidence. "Sometimes these cases can last for weeks at a time and jurors are required to sit there for eight, nine hours a day and not say anything," says Charles Keller, the outreach administrator for the Mecklenburg County Courts. "They can't talk about the case or what they've seen or how they're feeling." The Juror Assistance Program is designed to offer jurors a way to handle those emotions. In certain murder and sexual assault cases a judge will be able to give jurors the number of a mental health professional. The state has contracted with a company to provide initial counseling sessions. If more help is needed, the counselors will direct jurors to a provider covered by their insurance plan or to an affordable counseling center. Mecklenburg County Courts wants to provide additional help by partnering with the county's Area Mental Health office. Keller says the district is asking counselors to talk to jurors at the end of disturbing trials about how to recognize signs of depression and PTSD. "In some cases we ask for their emotional ability to sit and listen to certain type of testimony and view certain kinds of evidence and we want people to not be traumatized by their jury service experience because it's very important to the work we do in the courthouse," says Keller. Of course, the county would have to agree to the extra cost. The Trial Court Administrator expects it wouldn't be much since the program likely would not call for a new position.