Judge jury selection behind closed doors
PENNSYLVANIA–A county judge in Waynesburg closed jury selection proceedings for a murder trial in early September, and allowed the questioning of jurors to continue in secret for three days.
The jurors were interviewed in the law library of the Greene County Court. The steps to the library were roped off and two police officers guarded the only entrance, according to the Uniontown (Penn.) Herald-Standard.
The court told reporters that the proceeding was closed because of the seriousness of the crime. The court said it wanted to avoid possible embarrassment from potential jurors publicly answering personal questions.
Judge H. Terry Grimes said he believed he lawfully closed the voir dire proceedings. He said that since courts may restrict access to confidential juror questionnaires, that power may be extended to close the entire voir dire process.
Opponents to the closure have commented that the U.S. Supreme Court permits withholding confidential juror questionnaire information but that voir dire itself must remain open.
Theresa Vitzhum, lawyer for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association, said that even if there is a risk of intimidation of jurors, the decision to close the jury selection process must be based on an open public hearing demonstrating the need for closure. No such hearing took place in Greene County, according to Vitzhum. (Commonwealth v. John F. Lavigne; Media Counsel: Theresa Vitzhum, Harrisburg)