A federal judge has ordered special protections for the jury in the trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Guzman was extradited to the U.S. over a year ago after managing two elaborate escapes from Mexican prisons. Concerned over the safety of jurors, the Judge ordered them to be anonymous and partially sequestered. The defense had opposed the move, arguing that having an anonymous jury would undermine the defendant’s presumption of innocence.
Several criteria are used to determine if an anonymous jury is appropriate:
- The defendant’s involvement in organized crime
- the defendant’s participation in a group with the capacity to harm jurors
- the defendant’s past attempts to interfere with the judicial process
- the potential that the defendant will get a long jail sentence or substantial fines if convicted, and
- extensive publicity that could expose jurors to intimidation or harassment.
The first fully anonymous jury, also known as an innominate jury, empaneled in the United States was in the 1977 trial of “untouchable” drug kingpin Leroy Barnes in New York City. The court believed Barnes presented an unusually dangerous risk to the jurors.
Since then, anonymous juries were used primarily in criminal cases in New York federal court when the defendant was notoriously dangerous. In many cases, the defendants had previously tried to bribe, intimidate, or harm jurors. By the mid-1990s, a few courts used anonymous juries regularly. Two California judges, for example, decided to empanel anonymous juries in all criminal cases until an appellate court ordered an end to the practice.
Anonymous juries have been empaneled in these cases:
- first case against a police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore
- trials of the police officers who allegedly beat Rodney King
- the people who beat Reginald Denny
- the Branch Davidians from the Waco siege
- corruption trial of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards
- the trial of druglord Rayful Edmond, who was considered so dangerous that his trial took place in a courtroom protected by bulletproof glass
- Trial of mobster John Gotti
Can Anonymous Juries Backfire?
In John Gotti’s trial, the judge empaneled an anonymous jury because it feared Gotti or his associates might threaten, intimidate, or otherwise tamper with the composition of the jury. Unbeknownst to the court, the prosecutors or the press, one of the jurors was George Pape, a man with ties to an Irish-American organized crime group. According to legal scholars who have examined the trial, Pape contacted Gotti’s attorneys, accepted a bribe, and arranged for Gotti’s acquittal. If the jurors had not been anonymous, the prosecutors or the press would have had the opportunity to investigate the jurors’ backgrounds to prevent such corruption of the trial.
What do you think? Should juries ever be anonymous? Or do juror deserve increased privacy when the defendants are dangerous?