Protecting Jurors' Privacy
June 27, 2001
A small but growing number of judges around the country are trying to protect the privacy of jurors by keeping their names anonymous. Ohio state court Judge Joseph Clark argues that by ordering the jurors to court, "we owe them the highest standard of care."
But no matter how well-intentioned, the movement isn't without its critics.
- Media groups and defense attorneys have been challenging the orders, saying that anonymous juries violate the bedrock American principle of open trials -- protected by the First Amendment's free press guarantee and the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that defendants get a "public trial."
- Defense lawyers say the practice makes their clients look guilty.
- In the past, so-called anonymous juries were used only in limited cases involving organized crime or violent gangs, where the jurors' safety was at issue.
- Anonymous jurors' names are often released post-verdict -- except in cases where safety is an issue -- in an effort to balance juror privacy with the court system's traditional emphasis on openness.
Legal scholars detect in the most recent trend a shift from emphasizing safety to ensuring privacy.
The issue isn't directly addressed in the Constitution. But a 1968 federal law specifically allows judges to keep jurors names anonymous "where the interests of justice so require."
Source: Jerry Markon, "Judges Pushing for More Privacy of Jurors' Names," Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2001.
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