Jurors Need Protection

Last week I appeared on ABC 15 News in an interview by Elizabeth Erwin discussing the need to protect the anonymity of jurors in criminal cases.

This issue came up when the identity of Juror 17 in the second Jodi Arias sentencing trial was revealed online.  Juror 17 became the target of criticism and even threats when it was revealed that she was the sole holdout who prevented Jodi Arias from receiving a death sentence.

I proposed rules protecting the privacy of trial jurors similar to the rules that protect grand jurors.  Grand jurors’ identities are protected under court seal with criminal penalties in place for anyone who reveals their identities.

Currently the court keeps trial jurors’ biographical information under seal, and the attorneys in the case are not permitted to disclose the information, but there is no prohibition preventing other other individuals, including fellow jurors, from publicly disseminating the identity of a juror.

Protecting the jury process is as important to our freedom as voting.  In felony cases, and many misdemeanor cases, the guilt of a defendant is not judged by a government employee, but by citizens from the community.  Citizen jurors help keep the government honest and justice transparent.

The system breaks down,though, when jurors are judging cases not on the evidence presented in the courtroom, but on their fear of retaliation from individuals who do not agree with their verdicts.  Unfortunately, what the public learns about a trial through the media, is often different than what is actually presented in the courtroom.  This can cause a discrepancy between a jury verdict and public opinion.

The widespread use of social media can make the situation even worse.  Social media users, hiding behind the anonymity of a user name, can create fear through threats and intimidation.  After Juror 17’s identity was revealed, they were placed under police protection.

Jurors should feel free to make the legal decisions that they feel fit the facts presented in the courtroom, and the instructions of law given to them by the judge.  When jurors don’t feel safe to do what they feel right, we end up with a system that is no better than a reality TV show.

The Arizona State Legislature can act and put laws in place that protect the identity of criminal trial jurors.  Jurors’ names can be put under seal, and criminal penalties can be proscribed for anyone violating juror identity confidentiality.

Update 3/11/2015:  After I published this article I had a conversation with a friend of mine private investigator Rich Robertson of R3 Investigations and he brought up a good point.  It is important that any restrictions that are put in place to protect the identify of jurors not interfere with the ability of attorneys to investigate the case.  Specifically, attorneys for both the state and the defense should continue to be allowed to know the identify of jurors and contact the jurors after the trial to interview them.

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