- Discover essay samples

The Anonymity of Juries

4.9 of 5.0 (198 reviews)

1426 words

The Anonymity of Juries page 1
The Anonymity of Juries page 2
The Anonymity of Juries page 3
The above thumbnails are of reduced quality. To view the work in full quality, click download.

The Anonymity of Juries


The American criminal justice system has traditionally made

the identities and addresses of jurors known to the judge, the

prosecution, and the defense. That tradition began to erode with the

unprecedented sua sponte trial court decision to use an anonymous jury

in the case of United States v. Barnes, a highly publicized criminal

trial of notorious organized crime figures in New York City. Since

"Barnes," Federal prosecutors in New York have requested and been

granted anonymous juries in a number of similar cases, a development

which has generated criticism. This paper first addresses the issue of

whether juror anonymity violates a defendant's sixth amendment right

to a jury trial by adversely affecting the defendant's ability to

exercise effectively peremptory challenges during voir dire. It also

discusses the effect an anonymous jury may have on the presumption

that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Also considered are

attempts by trial judges, through particular jury instructions, to

minimize or eliminate prejudice to defendants resulting from the use

of an anonymous jury. And finally the paper examines the need for

anonymous juries and concludes that in certain cases jurors may either

fear retaliation or actually be exposed to intimidation unless the

court employs measures to conceal their identities.


Juror anonymity is an innovation that was unknown to the

common law and to American jurisprudence in its first two centuries.

Anonymity was first employed in federal prosecutions of organized

crime in New York in the 1980's. Although anonymous juries are unusual

since they are typically only empanelled in organized-crime cases, its

use has spread more recently to widely publicized cases such as the

federal prosecution of police officers accused of beating Rodney King;

and the trial of those accused of the World Trade Center bombing.

In these cases, attorneys selected a jury from a panel of

prospective jurors whose names, addresses, ethnic backgrounds and

religous affiliations remain unknown to either side. This unusual

procedure, designed to protect jurors from outside influence and the

fear of retaliation, has occasionally been used in New York federal

courts since the trial of drug kingpin Leroy "Nicky" Barnes.1 Despite

apparent benefits, critics assail anonymous juries both as an

infringment of the sixth amendment guarantee of an impartial jury 2

and as a serious and unnecessary erosion of the presumption of


Since many attorneys believe trials are frequently won or lost

during jury selection,4 any procedure diminishing the role of counsel

invites close scrutiny and criticism. Opponents of anonymous juries

argue that the procedure restricts meaningful voir dire and thereby

undermines the defendant's sixth amendment right to an impartial

jury.5 Critics also claim that jurors interpret their anonymity as

proof of the defendant's criminal proclivity, thereby subverting the

presumption of innocence.6 Nevertheless, this paper argues that

anonymous juries neither undermine the sixth amendment nor

meaningfully dilute the presumption of innocence. Limited Voir Dire

and the Peremptory Challenge

Consistent with due process and the sixth amendment,7 the

trial judge may refuse to ask prospective jurors any questions not

reasonably calculated to expose biases or prejudices relevant to the

case.8 Although addresses and group affilations may indicate

significant potential for bias, attorneys do not have an unfettered

right to this information in every case.9 Denying access to these

facts may constrain an attorney's ability to assemble an ideal jury,

but it violates no constitutional right.

Although the Barnes court may have been on firm constitutional

ground in rejecting the defendants' request for the ethnic and

religous backgrounds and addresses of prospective jurors,10 it

unnecessarily downplayed the relevance of this information to

intelligent peremptory challenges.11 Indeed, racial, ethnic and

socio-economic undercurrents are present in every case involving an

anonymous jury. Trial judges should acknowledge this fact and permit

some inquiry into group affiliations and approximate community in lieu

of names and addresses. Because such disclosure does not undermine the

purpose of juror anonymity and more than adequately substitutes for

the information normally inferable from names and addresses, it should

be permitted in every case using the procedure.

Some aspects of juror anonymity may even work to a defendant's

advantage. Assuming attorneys are able to discern subtle prejudices

from a prospective juror's group affiliations, anonymity equally

restrains both sides from eliminating members of the jury pool with

undesirable demographic characteristics.12 Although defense attorneys

may be unable to weed out jurors with group characteristics that are

supposedly prejudicial to criminal defendants, pro-secutors will

similarly be unable to detect jurors from supposedly sympathetic

jurors.13 This equality of ignorance may favor defendants. Because

conviction requires a unanimous verdict, anonymity increases the

possibility of a hung jury by increasing the liklihood that jurors

associated with religous, ethnic or socio-economic groups favoring

particular defendants will slip through the voir dire.

One writer has argued that equal access to information about

the jury panel is crucial to a fair voir dire.14 He noted that, in the

past, prosecutors have had unilateral access to governmental agency

data on prospective jurors.15 Thus, the prosecution enjoys a potential

systemic advantage in every case.16 He concludes that a relatively

broad voir dire is necessary to remedy this institutional disparity.17

One might more readily conclude, however, that anonymous juries remedy

this systemic inequality. Without names and addresses, prosecutors

could not take advantage of the superior informational and

investigative resources of the government. Anonymity thus ensures that

both sides are on equal footing with regard to information about

prospective jurors.

Although the limited voir dire is constitutional, it prevents

access to information on which attorneys rely substantially in

exercising their peremptory challenges. Consequently, attorneys should

have alternative access to jurors' ethnic backgrounds and approximate

community if the disclosure would not jeopardize jurors' security.

The Presumption of Innocence

Unlike security measures that unequivocally point to the

defendant, juror anonymity could be perceived to address potential

disturbances wholly unrelated to the defendant. Yet, critics of the

anonymous jury contend that prospective jurors could only read the

anonymity instruction to be a judicial conclusion of the defendant's

guilt.18 Therefore, they cannot obey the contradictory instruction to

presume the defendant innocent until the governnment meets its burden

of proof.19 Although plausible, this conclusion necessarily depends on

certain unsupported assump tions about juror perception and knowledge.

The potential burden of jury anonymity on the defendant's

presumption of innocence was conceded in United States v. Thomas.20

It was even recognized that the prejudicial impact on the defendant

could not be eliminated totally. In rejecting a per se rule against

anonymity, the Thomas Court underlined two essential prerequisites for

use of an anonymous jury. First, there should be "strong reason to

believe the jury needs protection," and second, reasonable precaution

must be taken to minimize the negative effect of use of the anonymous

jury "on the juror's opinions of the defendants." 21

Unfortunately, the court also endorsed concealing from the

jury the real reason for anonymity. The principal justfication offered

for anonymity was to prevent jury tampering, but ...

You are currently seeing 50% of this paper.

You're seeing 1426 words of 2851.

Keywords: is anonymity a right

Similar essays


In politics it would be novel to have a gracious rival. Modern political campaigners might take a lesson in graciousness and kindness from the great British statesman, Edward Campbell . Once when Campbell was opposing Thackereay for a seat in Parliament, the two contenders, in course of their campaigning, met and engaged in friendly convers...

205 reviews
Facts and Ethics Behind Euthanasia

Euthanasia is defined by The American Heritage Dictionary as "the action of killing an individual for reasons considered to be merciful" (469). Here, killing is described as the physical action where one individual actively kills another. Euthanasia is tolerated in the medical field under certain circumstances when a patient is s...

174 reviews
Education of Gifted Children

Started in the 1970's, America's Gifted & Talented programs are used to enhance the curriculum of students included in either category in order to challenge and strengthen their unique abilities. These students are usually provided a separate class with specialized lessons in all areas and a teacher with a special degree in gifted...

199 reviews
Housing problem

By: bubbles E-mail: Many economists argue that market solutions are more efficient than government agencies in providing services even when it comes to 'merit goods'. In the discussion of housing problem, I would disagree with the economist's view. Housing is a very complicate issue that I believe it will work th...

199 reviews
Tobacco in Malaysia

Tobacco is one of the leading preventable causes of death in Malaysia. Under the current law, smoking is banned in all public places. These include amusement centres, theatres, hospitals, clinics, public vehicles and air-conditioned restaurants. Likewise, anyone under age of eighteen is not allowed to buy cigarettes or any tobacco products. If...

174 reviews
Atsisiųsti šį darbą