Arizona Supreme Court Rules Anonymous Juries Constitutional | New Policies

By BOB CHRISTIE, Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state courts can keep the identities of jurors secret, dismissing a challenge from a southern Arizona reporter who argued that the right to observe trials included access to the names of jurors who decide people’s fates. accused of crimes.

The unanimous decision written by Associate Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer rejected arguments made by attorneys for the publisher of the Cochise County Record that withholding identity during the jury selection process without compelling reason violated the First Amendment .

The decision continues an ongoing movement in some US courts to allow the identities of jurors who have traditionally been appointed to be kept secret. A media group that filed a court-friendly brief said routinely keeping jurors’ identities secret would undermine the media’s ability to play its watchdog role.

But Timmer wrote that while the First Amendment implicitly guarantees the right of the public and the press to see criminal trials, it does not extend to all “confidential” information.

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Determining whether this right attaches to media access to the names of individual jurors requires determining whether they have always been available, Timmer wrote, and “whether public access plays a significant positive role in the operation of the particular process in question”.

Timmer concluded that while jurors’ names have generally been public across the country, their provision does not add a significant positive role to the jury selection process.

“Access to the names of jurors would not add significantly to the public’s ability to ensure that the voir dire is conducted fairly or to verify that the courts are not following established standards for jury selection,” said wrote Timmer.

The Journalists Committee for Press Freedom had urged the High Court to require the names of jurors to be available except in unusual cases, saying to do otherwise would limit the ability of the public and the press to monitor the judicial process.

“The benefits of an open and transparent judicial system – protecting against miscarriages of justice, ensuring that proceedings are fair, and discouraging decisions based on bias – are undermined when the public cannot tell who is exercising jury power,” indicates the committee record.

Lawyers for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office argued that disclosing jurors’ names would not help the selection process and that disclosing them would put jurors at risk of danger and embarrassment.

The Supreme Court case was brought by David Morgan, who runs the Cochise County Record, a website focused on public records from local police and courts. He and a second reporter appealed after a judge sealed the names of jurors in two cases without giving any explanation.

Morgan said he expected the loss, given questions from the seven justices during oral argument in April. But he noted that the court did not say that jurors’ names could never be released and that jurors themselves could identify themselves.

“It was voir dire,” Morgan said. “That didn’t say forever.”

Timmer noted that judges have discretion to release jurors’ names and that if a court denies access, “a best practice would be to explain its reasoning on the record.”

Courts in Cochise County use secret juries in all criminal trials, and Arizona law states that lists of jury names or other information about jurors must not be released unless the law l specifically requires or the court orders.

Judge Clint Bolick wrote a brief concurring opinion noting that the privacy provision in the Arizona constitution provides “a compelling interest in enforcing (juror secrecy law) to protect privacy jurors”.

Jurors’ names across the United States were generally open until the late 1970s, when courts began appointing anonymous juries in select cases involving drug kingpins and mob bosses. , and the list has grown steadily to include many high-profile cases.

Last year, a Minnesota judge said he would keep the names of the jurors who convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd secret until he rules that he is sure to disclose their names.

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