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Court Affirms New York State Law Governing Anonymous Juries

July 20, 2017, on Criminal Defense Articles |

In some criminal proceedings, the identity of jurors can be withheld. Typically, this occurs in sensitive cases where there may be a risk to the safety of the jury members or in situations where it is possible that defendants or their associates could attempt to corrupt, bribe or intimidate members of the jury.

While there are bona fide reasons for allowing juror anonymity, there is also a problem: the fact that the decision is made to withhold the identities of jury members could send a message to those very same jurors that the defendant is especially dangerous. 

This message is amplified by the fact that it is often cases involving terrorism or involving suspected members of organized criminal organizations where the identities of members of the jury are withheld.  A New York defense attorney can provide insight to defendants about the possible implications of a decision that the jurors' identities will be withheld and can provide guidance on the right approach to take in response to a decision that the jury members information will not be revealed.

For defendants in New York who could potentially be involved in a criminal case where the identity of the jury members is not disclosed, there is some good news. The laws in New York are different than federal rules, and New York's law is more restrictive. As the New York Times reports, this more-restrictive state law was upheld recently by a state court of appeals.

New York's Rules on Anonymous Juries

The federal rules on anonymous juries in cases where there is a risk to jury members allows jurors total anonymity when considering cases. New York's rule is more restrictive because it only allows the addresses of jurors to be withheld from the parties to the trial and from the general public. The names of members of the jury cannot be withheld in the state of New York.

New York's rule was recently challenged after a judge in Orange County empanelled an anonymous jury. The judge indicated prior to the trial that he would not allow disclosure of the names of jury members, but instead they would be identified only by number. The case involved four men who local prosecutors believed were members of La Eme, a street gang.  The judge had made his decision to withhold the names of jury members because in several recent cases, jurors had indicated they weren't comfortable encountering defendants and their associates while walking through the parking lot.

Lawyers for the defendants objected to the decision the judge made, and to the fact that the judge didn't provide instructions to the jury telling them that they shouldn't view his decision to hide their identities as a reflection on the guilt of the defendants.  The appeals court agreed and ruled the judge had violated the laws in the state of New York, so the defendants were granted a new trial.

Whenever you are involved in a criminal case, whether the jurors' identities are to be disclosed or not, you should have James E. Tyner, an experienced New York defense attorney, providing you with assistance in taking active steps to earn an acquittal or reduce the chances of serious penalties being imposed. Contact us to find out more about how our firm can help you.

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