Jurors and secrecy

State ex rel. BuzzFeed v. Cunningham

September 24, 2015

BuzzFeed has asked the Supreme Court of Missouri to review a trial court judge’s decision to seal the jury list in the high profile criminal case against Michael L. Johnson, accused of recklessly transmitting the HIV virus. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted amicus suggestions in support of BuzzFeed’s petition. In the amicus suggestions, the Reporters Committee argued that jury lists are presumptively open under the First Amendment and that their closure can be justified only upon a showing of a compelling governmental interest. The Reporters Committee further argued that providing the press with access to jury lists increases public confidence by ensuring that the judicial process is conducted in the open and by exposing potential corruption.

In re WP Company LLC (U.S. v. McDonnell)

March 27, 2015

The Washington Post sought access to completed jury questionnaires in the criminal trial of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The district court released the completed questionnaires, but with names and juror numbers redacted, making it impossible for the public to know which questionnaires corresponded with empaneled jurors. The Washington Post filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Fourth Circuit, seeking an order directing the district court to identify which questionnaires were completed by seated jurors. The Reporters Committee and 22 media organizations filed an amicus brief, arguing that the First Amendment provides a presumptive right of access to juror questionnaires, which are merely a written form of oral voir dire, which is presumptively open to the public. The brief argues that the right of access includes the right to identify which questionnaires match with seated jurors.

Grand jury secrecy comes at a cost

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | January 13, 2015
January 13, 2015

Two new lawsuits are challenging the continued secrecy of the grand jury investigations related to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. The suits demonstrate just how secret the information gathered by a grand jury is, while also making a compelling case for the public interest in greater access.

Comment on Eastern District of Louisiana proposal to restrict juror interviews

August 15, 2014

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Louisiana Press Association, and Gannett Co., Inc. and its six Louisiana outlets filed a public comment in opposition to proposed changes to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Louisiana Local Rule 47.5 (Interviewing Jurors). The proposed rule would ban jurors from ever discussing a wide range of topics about deliberations and why they voted as they did. The Reporters Committee argues that the proposed rule change is inconsistent with the First Amendment rights of not only the jurors, but also of the news media that covers the courts and the public that needs to know how justice is administered.

Colorado court refuses to close jury selection process in Holmes theater-shooting case

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Secret Courts | News | June 13, 2014
June 13, 2014

A Colorado district court judge on Wednesday rejected the defendant’s request to close the jury selection process for the Aurora theater shooting trial.

Arapahoe County Judge Carlos Samour denied the request for complete closure to the public and the media and the prosecution’s request for partial closure of the selection process. Instead, the court opted to open the entire process, only withholding the names of prospective and seated jurors and the jury questionnaires.

Maine Supreme Court orders jury selection to be public in prostitution case

Rob Tricchinelli | Secret Courts | News | January 28, 2013
January 28, 2013

Maine’s highest court reversed a trial judge's decision and ordered jury selection to be public in a notable prostitution prosecution.

“A generalized concern that juror candor might be reduced if [jury selection] is conducted in public is insufficient . . . to bar the public or media from the entirety of the process,” according to the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley.

The trial court did not consider other less restrictive alternatives to closure that would still preserve the defendant’s rights, the opinion stated.

Kentucky judge upholds rule preventing contact with federal jurors

Lilly Chapa | Secret Courts | News | November 27, 2012
November 27, 2012

A Kentucky federal judge recently allowed media contact with jurors in a hate crime case, but denied the newspaper's attempt to strike down a local rule that normally prevents interaction with jurors in a federal trial.

D.C. appeals court: Judge should have released juror questionnaires in Chandra Levy trial

Right of access extends to surveys used to ‘facilitate’ voir dire
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AP Photo by Debbie Noda

Photos of Chandra Levy at a 2002 memorial service.

The previously secret questionnaires of jurors who convicted the killer of former Congressional intern Chandra Levy were recently made public after a court decision addressing the balance between the public’s right of access and the fair trial right of a defendant in a high-profile criminal trial.

Chandra Levy juror questionnaires must be released

Kristen Rasmussen | Secret Courts | Feature | January 19, 2012
January 19, 2012

A Washington, D.C., trial judge erred when he did not allow Washington Post reporters access to the questionnaires of jurors who convicted the killer of former intern Chandra Levy, D.C.’s appellate court ruled today.

Federal judge orders Tribune reporter to turn over notes

Chris Healy | Reporter's Privilege | Feature | December 13, 2011
December 13, 2011

Update (12/14/2011): U.S. Judge James Zagel has ruled that Chicago Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney will not be compelled to turn over her notes regarding a juror in the felony trial of William Cellini, the Tribune reports.