SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota lawmaker wants to address sexual trauma for jury selection process

Rep. Luke Frederick said the questionnaire sent to potential jurors for a criminal sex cases needs to be improved.

Gavel Court Crime Courts
We are part of The Trust Project.

MANKATO — Rep. Luke Frederick, by his own admission, got into a heated argument with a judge after being picked for jury duty last summer.

The Mankato Democrat was happy to serve on a jury but found himself appalled by some of the questions on a questionnaire sent to potential jurors for a criminal sex case.

The questionnaire asks for personal details about the juror such as whether they've ever been the victim of sexual assault — something few victims ever admit to their loved ones, let alone judiciary workers. And jurors are required to answer truthfully, lest they face penalties.

Frederick, who works at the Minnesota Security Hospital, said such questions can re-traumatize those who've been victimized or exposed to sexual abuse.

lukefrederick.jpg
Rep. Luke Frederick
Minnesota House

"When you have a person who's a victim of sexual assault serving on jury duty, chances are they've never shared that story with anyone," Frederick said. "The trainings that I've had in trauma-informed care, there were a lot of red flags that went up for me over this."

ADVERTISEMENT

Frederick ultimately wasn't chosen for jury duty — he was dismissed shortly after arguing with the judge about the questions. Yet he did start talking with lawmakers as soon as he walked out of the courtroom.

That prompted Frederick to work with sexual assault victim advocates, survivors, trial lawyers and members of the state's judiciary to bring more trauma-informed practices to jury duty selection.

Thus far, Frederick has only met a handful of times with advocates including representatives from the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Minnesota Association for Justice. Yet he's found widespread support from fellow lawmakers and advocates, especially as few advocates knew about the potential issues for survivors in jury duty.

"It's one thing when you come into different issues at the state level, where everyone knows it's an issue," Frederick said. "Until I started talking to people about it, it wasn't on anyone's radar."

Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott hadn't heard about Frederick's work before, but he said it's a good idea to examine legal practices to minimize harm for people participating in the legal system.

"It's always worth the conversation, and it is something that's real," McDermott said. "We don't want to retraumatize someone."

The underlying issue is a judge and lawyers need to know certain details about a prospective juror to determine whether they would be biased during a court case. A potential juror's information is reviewed by a limited number of people, but it can still be scary for victims.

It's a balancing act, McDermott said, but it's important to ensuring court proceedings are impartial.

ADVERTISEMENT

Case in point: British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who was recently convicted on charges she recruited and groomed teenage girls for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, is requesting a new trial after one of the jurors in the case revealed he was a victim of sexual abuse.

It's unclear what changes may come to the way jury duty accommodates victims of sexual crimes.

Frederick said he hopes to author a bill for a pilot project in three counties — one urban, one suburban and one rural — where judges, attorneys, advocates and survivors hash out and test some improvements. That might be a trigger warning on top of the questionnaire, or numbers for counseling services a prospective juror could contact.

From there, those recommendations will go before state officials and lawmakers alike.

"I'm just hopeful that, at the end of the day, we can move forward and help people," Frederick said.

(c)2022 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

What to read next
The Minnesota legislative session fizzled to a close on Monday with many top issues left unresolved.
Mental health advocates and public safety officials said the funding could help those in crisis and close gaps for those deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Navigating MSP program includes using ground transportation, getting through security, getting in and out of plane seats — everything but getting off the ground, in preparation for an actual trip
The inventory of flocks in Minnesota diagnosed with H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza now stands at 62 sites, with a total of 2,718,082 birds affected, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. Two additional infection sites were announced Friday, April 29.