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Reporters Committee asks Ohio Supreme Court to find anonymous jury rule unconstitutional

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A criminal defendant in Ohio should be granted a new trial because of a policy that requires anonymous juries in…

A criminal defendant in Ohio should be granted a new trial because of a policy that requires anonymous juries in all civil and criminal cases in the county, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued in a friend-of-the-court brief to be filed today with the Ohio Supreme Court.

The case involves the prosecution of Clifton Hill, who was indicted and convicted in Fairfield County on numerous criminal counts, including the murder of his step-father. The judges of the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas use anonymous juries in all trials. The names, addresses and phone numbers of jurors are kept secret from defendants, lawyers and the judges. The judge in Hill’s trial did not make a finding that an anonymous jury was necessary; a fact that caused the Court of Appeals last spring to declare a “structural” error and remand the case for a new trial. The state appealed the reversal of Hill’s conviction to the state Supreme Court.

The Reporters Committee, joined by the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, argued that Fairfield County’s local rule requiring an anonymous jury in all cases is unconstitutional. “Open judicial proceedings are an essential element of our legal system and our American way of life,” the journalism organizations wrote. “As a matter of constitutional, statutory and common law, courts have consistently held that judicial proceedings must be in public. . . . Fairfield County’s practice of selecting secret juries in all cases is contrary to these well-established principles.”

“Anonymous juries should only be allowed in exceptional cases, and then only after a judge has made a detailed finding that it is justified,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee. “A secret jury is really only justified in cases where a judge has found that jury tampering is likely or that jurors will be in danger if their names are known.”

The amicus curiae brief in State of Ohio v. Hill can be found on the Reporters Committee’s web site at: https://www.rcfp.org/news/documents/hill.html