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Names of criminal trial jurors are public

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   PENNSYLVANIA   ·   Secret Courts   ·   June 5, 2007 Names of…

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   PENNSYLVANIA   ·   Secret Courts   ·   June 5, 2007

Names of criminal trial jurors are public

  • The First Amendment provides for public access to the identities of jurors, but not addresses.

June 5, 2007  ·   Names of jurors serving on criminal cases in Pennsylvania are available to the public, but their addresses are not, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The unanimous high court decision is a victory for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and televisions station WPXI, and settles a question of access to criminal trial information that had previously split the Pennsylvania courts, said David A. Strassburger, the attorney who represented the newspaper.

“Allowing the public to know who the people who are going to make the decision are allows them to verify for themselves that the jury is really impartial,” Strassburger said. “It’s critically important for people to have faith in the criminal jury trial.”

The current case started in 2003, when a jury in Westmoreland County retired to deliberate in a murder case and two local reporters attempted to ascertain from the court a list of their names and addresses. The trial court refused the request, as did the state intermediate court, forcing the media outlets to launch this appeal to the Supreme Court.

Citing the practice of making jury names public dating from the very beginning of the United States, the court ruled that historical considerations weighed in favor of release in all but a few narrow circumstances, of which this was not one. The court also found that practical considerations of public confidence in the criminal justice system counseled in favor of release.

“Openness is fostered by the public knowledge of who is on the impaneled jury,” that court wrote. “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.”

However, the same historical and practical considerations did not extend to the release of juror addresses, the court ruled.

“Revealing jurors’ names is sufficient for the public to determine the identity of the jurors’ and to prove an additional check on ensuring the impartiality of the jury,” the court wrote. “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.”

Interestingly, through its reporting, the newspaper was able to obtain the names of the jurors after the trial by making a public records request of the county agency charged with distribution of public funds, including payments to jurors. In the small county of Westmoreland, it was easy to determine which county payees served as jurors on the specific case because it was the only three-week-long trial of the pay period.

“We didn’t learn the names of the jurors, we deduced the names of the jurors from the juror fee records,” Strassburger said. “That was a triumph of journalism over law.”

(Pennsylvania v. Long; Media Counsel: David A. Strassburger, Strassburger McKenna Gutnick & Potter, P.C., Pittsburgh, for Tribune Review Publishing Company; Walter DeForest, DeForest, Koscelnik, Yokitis, Kaplan & Berardinelli, Pittsburgh, for WXPI, Inc.)NW

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