How Much Does the First Amendment Limit Juror Privacy?

gavel2a.jpgThe Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a recent decision — Commonwealth v. Long, — A.2d —-, 2007 WL 1574157 (Pa. 2007) — concluded that the First Amendment requires public disclosure of jurors’ names. This is an issue that the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet addressed. According to the court:

First, with respect to the value of openness in criminal trials, a trial by jury and public access to criminal trials serve the same function-ensuring the fairness of the judicial process. From the earliest days of this country, it was believed that the jury was the best way to assure a fair trial. See The Federalist No. 83, at 545 (Alexander Hamilton) (The Modern Library ed.) (“[The jury trial] is a valuable check on corruption”). Likewise, public scrutiny of the criminal justice system enhances the quality and safeguards the integrity of the factfinding process, “with benefits to both the defendant and to society as a whole.” Openness also fosters an appearance of fairness, which increases public respect for the criminal justice system as a whole. “And in the broadest terms, public access to criminal trials permits the public to participate in and serves as a check upon the judicial process-an essential component in our structure of self government.”

While these considerations weigh in favor of disclosing jurors’ names and addresses, we believe that revealing impaneled jurors’ names is sufficient. Openness is fostered by the public knowledge of who is on the impaneled jury. Armed with such knowledge, the public can confirm the impartiality of the jury, which acts as an additional check upon the prosecutorial and judicial process. . . . Accordingly, disclosing jurors’ names allows the public to participate in the judicial process and furthers the fairness and the appearance of fairness of the criminal trial, since the public can confirm the impartiality of the proceedings and the prospective jurors are more likely to tell the truth.

On the other hand, disclosing jurors’ addresses is not a constitutional imperative. Revealing jurors’ names is sufficient for the public to determine the identity of the jurors’ and to provide an additional check on ensuring the impartiality of the jury. Disclosure of jurors’ addresses does not advance these important functions, but merely makes these functions easier. The First Amendment is not a rule of convenience. Indeed, disclosing jurors’ addresses may ultimately hamper the operation of the jury system as a whole.

Turning to the need to encourage jury service, all of the important functions served by the jury are meaningless unless there are twelve qualified citizens willing to serve as jurors. The average citizen has expressed discomfort at the prospect of being harassed by the press during or after the case is over. Similarly, jurors have expressed fear of physical harm related to serving on criminal juries. Either of these factors may make the average citizen less willing to serve on a jury, especially if he or she believes that the media, the defendant, or the defendant’s family and friends know where he or she lives. It is not difficult to conclude that the privacy concerns of citizens being asked to serve as jurors are real and legitimate.

Taking in mind the tradition of accessibility, as well as the competing values of openness versus the promotion of jury service, the conclusion is inescapable. We believe the First Amendment provides a qualified right of access to jurors’ names, but not addresses. In this way, the public will be provided with enough information to confirm the identity of jurors when necessary. Disclosing jurors’ names furthers the objective of a fair trial to the defendant and gives assurances of fairness to society as a whole. But the average citizens’ concern that the media will be camped out on their front lawn and fear of physical harm can be alleviated. We recognize that courts have been split on this issue.

Hat tip: CrimProf Blog

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