Use of Anonymous Juries Spreads
November 18, 2002
The practice of using anonymous juries originated 25 years ago in a notorious drug case in New York. But it has now spread to state and federal courts in a number of locales. The original purpose was to shield jurors from retaliation, particularly in drug cases. But the practice spread to include cases that are sometimes quite routine.
Referring to jurors by numbers rather than names has its supporters as well as detractors.
- Supporters argue that anonymity protects jurors from being badgered by reporters after verdicts -- and makes them feel more comfortable about serving.
- Critics -- including defense lawyers and civil libertarians -- say the practice erodes the presumption of innocence before the trial begins.
- Lawyers for news organizations argue that their inability to interview jurors after trials makes juries less accountable.
- In 1979, an appeals court found the use of anonymous juries to be constitutional.
Anonymous juries have been used in trials of the Branch Davidians, of the police officers accused of assaulting Rodney King and Abner Louima, and of John Gotti, O.J. Simpson and Oliver North. They have been used in a case involving the killing of an abortion doctor, in the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and in countless narcotics and organized crime cases.
While statistics on their use are difficult to come by, legal experts agree that the practice is growing.
Source: Adam Liptak, "Nameless Juries Are on the Rise in Crime Cases," New York Times, November 18, 2002.
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