Translate NuwaubianFacts.com to 26 Different Language.  Choose Your Language Below

 free website translation
by tolingo translations



Our Constitution


Government Key Witness Recants Her Testimony

Federal Court Pretrial Transcripts

Standards Guiding Use Of An Anonymous Jury

In trial of defendant members of a drug-trafficking organization for "murder of certain government witnesses" as well as for "numerous ... narcotics and firearms-related offenses," an anonymous jury was appropriate for both capital and non-capital defendants because "disclosure of identifying information about the venire members may jeopardize their lives or safety," as well as that the "'interests of justice'” are served by anonymity, in United States v. Dinkins, __ F.3d __ (4th Cir. Aug. 14, 2012) (Nos. 09-4668, 09-4669, 09-4755)
The Federal Evidence Review noted in May an increasing number of circuits have begun to assess the use of anonymous juries. That blog entry noted the Seventh Circuit's approach to empaneling an anonymous jury, including the criteria to be used in reviewing the propriety of trial by anonymous jury. Recently, the Fourth Circuit weighed in on anonymous juries as well. Unlike the Seventh Circuit case, the recent Fourth Circuit opinion examines the various standards for use of such juries, distinguishing use in capital and non-capital trials. The circuit suggests that while almost all anonymous juries in capital cases will per se satisfy requirements for use of such a jury in non-capital cases, the reverse is not necessarily true.

In the case, several defendants, but not all, were charged with capital crimes, in the murder of government witnesses. The basic charge against all defendants involved various drug and weapons charges, not subject to the possibility of a capital sentence. After the district court trial ended, the defendants appealed their convictions, basing one of their challenges on the use of an anonymous jury in their trial. The Fourth Circuit readily affirmed the use of an anonymous jury in the case, but in doing so made a number of observations about the use of such juries. Dinkins, __ F.3d at __.

The Fourth Circuit noted two general conditions to be considered in deciding to use an anonymous jury. The first condition was a determination that "there is strong reason to conclude that the jury needs protection from interference or harm, or that the integrity of the jury's function will be compromised absent anonymity." The second, and apparently equally significant factor was that the court have "reasonable safeguards ... to minimize the risk that the rights of the accused will be infringed." The circuit did not address whether these two standards could come into conflict or how such a conflict might be resolved. Dinkins, __ F.3d at __ (citing United States v. Ross, 33 F.3d 1507 (11th Cir. 1994))

Ultimately, after considering five "Ross" factors that the circuit noted had been generally applied by the circuits in addressing the use of anonymous juries, the circuit concluded that in the defendants' case there was sufficient evidence that "disclosing names and addresses of venire members" of the jury would jeopardize the panel's safety because the defendants all were part of a drug-trafficking organization that had demonstrated its willingness to prevent apprehension by killing informants. The defendant who was being tried for a non-capital offense also warranted use of an anonymous jury because even that defendant had the capacity to harm jurors, and in fact was on trial for killing a government informant. On the other side, the defendants' right to a fair trial had been accommodated as well. The trial judge made sure that the jurors were never informed that certain biographic data about each member had been withheld from parties and even the juror questionnaire used in selecting jurors did not suggest the court had taken measures to protect jurors from potential harm caused by defendants or their associates. Dinkins, __ F.3d at __.

While Dinkins provides an extensive review of the current use of anonymous juries, the case also includes many aspects that give shape to the decisions that have been made about using anonymous juries. For example, the Fourth Circuit pointed out that there is no standard meaning as to exactly what an "anonymous jury" is because:

The term ... does not have one fixed meaning. A jury generally is considered to be "anonymous" when a trial court has withheld certain biographical information about the jurors either from the public, or the parties, or both. See United States v. Branch, 91 F.3d 699, 723 (5th Cir. 1996). A lesser degree of anonymity may entail disclosing to the parties the names of the venire members, but identifying them only by number in open court. Greater degrees of anonymity may involve withholding from the parties the names, addresses, employers, and certain other biographical information about the venire members or their spouses. See United States v. Honken, 378 F. Supp. 2d 880, 919-21 (N.D. Iowa 2004). A district court’s decision to empanel an anonymous jury should reflect the court’s consideration of the various types of information that warrant being withheld.

A federal district court may empanel an anonymous jury in any non-capital case in which "the interests of justice so require." 28 U.S.C. § 1863(b)(7); see also United States v. Ochoa-Vasquez, 428 F.3d 1015, 1033 n.24 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Section 1863(b)(7) as statutory authority for decision to empanel an anonymous jury, in a non-capital case); United States v. Marrero-Ortiz, 160 F.3d 768, 776 (1st Cir. 1998) (same). Although not defined in Section 1863(b)(7), the "interests of justice" standard "contemplates a peculiarly context-specific inquiry," Martel v. Clair,__ U.S. __ at __, 132 S. Ct. 1276, 1287 (2012). By contrast, in capital cases, the district court may only empanel an anonymous jury after determining, "by a preponderance of the evidence that providing the list [of the members of the venire and their places of abode] may jeopardize the life or safety of any person." 18 U.S.C. § 3432 (Section 3432).

We draw upon persuasive precedent from our sister circuits, which already have developed principles guiding the empanelment of anonymous juries, in our resolution of this context-specific inquiry. The decision to empanel an anonymous jury and to withhold from the parties biographical information about the venire members is, in any case, "an unusual measure," which must be plainly warranted by the particular situation presented. See United States v. Vario, 943 F.2d 236, 239 (2d Cir. 1991).
Dinkins, __ F.3d at __ (citing United States v. Shryock, 342 F.3d 948, 971 (9th Cir. 2003) (use of anonymous jury is justified only for a strong reason to conclude that the jury needs protection from interference or harm, or that the integrity of the jury’s function will be compromised if the jury does not remain anonymous), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 965 (2004); United States v. Vario, 943 F.2d 236, 239 (2d Cir. 1991)).













©  Copyright 2009 Nuwaubian Facts.  All Rights Reserved.   www.nuwaubianfacts.com