A U.S. court of appeals has ruled that generalized concerns about privacy in the internet age is not enough to prevent public disclosure of juror names and addresses.
It held that unless a district court made particularized findings concerning privacy, a district court would be required to publicly disclose juror names and addresses immediately following trial. Observers suggest that the decision potentially undercuts juror safety, especially in high profile cases.
In Chin v. Trustees of Boston University, a public radio station in Boston, WBUR, sought to obtain jurors names and addresses after a criminal trial involving Glenn Chin. The defendant, a pharmacist, had been charged with 25 predicate acts of second-degree murder after he distributed contaminated medications nationwide causing a deadly fungal meningitis outbreak. Chin was found guilty of mail fraud and other lesser offenses but not guilty of the 25 counts of murder.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ordered the release of juror names and hometowns but not addresses. It had refused to publicly release juror addresses as “a necessary precaution in an age in which traditional boundaries of personal privacy are under assault.” It also delayed the release of juror names only after Chin’s sentencing, three months after the guilty verdict. The government did not oppose the release of the jurors’ names and addresses.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit noted that the case raised three competing interests: “the press’s First Amendment right of access to criminal trials[,] the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial [, and] the jurors[‘] interest in having their privacy protected.” With respect to the First Amendment, knowledge of juror identities “allows the public to verify the impartiality of key participants in the administration of justice,” the Court reasoned. “[P]ublic disclosure of juror identities serves many of the same purposes of ‘open justice’ that are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
Chin Is Grounded in the U.S. Jury Selection and Service Act
Although the court of appeals mentioned these competing Constitutional arguments, it did not reach them. Instead, it relied on the District of Massachusetts Plan for Random Selection of Jurors (Jury Plan), which the district adopted pursuant to the U.S. Jury Selection and Service Act (Act). The Jury Plan was adopted in 1982 and interpreted in the 1990 decision of In re Globe Newspaper Co. Neither the Act or Jury Plan prevent disclosure of juror names and addresses.
In re Globe construed the Jury Plan to require the court to release juror identities after a verdict is released, unless the court makes particularized findings reasonably justifying nondisclosure. Such particularized findings might include “a credible threat of jury tampering, a risk of personal harm to individual jurors, and other evils affecting the administration of justice.”
The court of appeals held that the Jury Plan required the court to release jurors’ names and addresses immediately following a verdict unless the trial court makes particularized findings to the contrary. The district court did not make particularized findings to justify not releasing juror addresses, so the court of appeals reversed and remanded to the trial court to reconsider the issue.
Social Media Concerns Are Irrelevant
The court also declined the invitation to “revisit the holding in light of changes in technology over the past thirty years.” Even though “In re Globe was decided decades ago and thus well before the first tweet was tweeted,” the court of appeals held, “these technological changes have by no means diminished the need for accountability and transparency in our system of justice.”
This decision concerned ABA Section of Litigation leaders. The court of appeals “ducked the privacy issues” and “ignored the larger juror safety concerns,” observes John M. Barkett, Miami, FL, cochair of the Section of Litigation’s Ethics & Professionalism Committee. While the flexible approach of In Re Globe works in “999 out of 1000 trials,” Barkett reasons, “in a high-profile case, it might be worth rethinking the result, especially in a world where information travels so quickly.”
Other Section leaders agree. “This opinion is not necessarily the best vehicle to address concerns with intrusion into juror’s privacy and the potential adverse consequences in this social media era,” says Darryl A. Goldberg, Chicago, IL, cochair of the Trial/Evidence Subcommittee of the Section’s Criminal Litigation Committee. On the other hand, “as a criminal lawyer,” says Goldberg, “empaneling anonymous juries generally puts the defendant at a serious disadvantage by sending an unavoidable message that the defendant is dangerous.”
Juror Privacy Remains at Risk
While the court of appeals rejected the district court’s generalized concern for privacy given the technological advances in the 30 years since In Re Globe was decided, the court of appeals also held that “the proper way for concerns about juror privacy to be addressed is through the process of amending the Jury Plan itself.” Section leaders embrace this holding. “Courts should discuss an amendment of the local Jury Plan,” says Goldberg, “insofar as it would be lawful, to potentially address the privacy considerations raised by the district court and bring the plan in touch with the modern era.” Without such changes, he suggests, juror privacy remains at risk.
Erik A. Christiansen is a contributing editor for Litigation News.
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- United States v. Doherty, 675 F. Supp. 719 (D. Mass. 1987).
- Carl A. Aveni, “Judge Restricts Lawyers from Researching Jurors Online,” Litigation News (July 21, 2016).
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