The importance of access to juror information

September 19, 2011

In the aftermath of the Casey Anthony trial and the verdict that stunned both local and television-audience court watchers, there have been unfortunate murmurings in Florida and elsewhere that the identity of jurors should be kept secret in all cases.

If that issue has arisen in your state, I highly recommend the issue paper by Jim Rhea, former executive director of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation.

In a clearly written but dispassionate paper, Rhea opined that it would be a bad idea and an overreach to make the withholding of jurors’ identities the rule, rather than the exception.

Rhea takes no position in the paper on what has happened since the Anthony jurors found her not guilty of murder last July in the death of her two-year-old daughter Caylee.

The judge who presided over the nationally televised trial barred release of jurors’ names and court officials have since followed that directive, saying that the jurors were asking media "to respect their privacy."

Since the end of trial, most of the Anthony jurors have been publicly identified only by juror number. At least one, however, was identified in a TV network interview, presumably with full or at least tacit permission.

Rhea, in his paper, offers no judgment on the judge’s ruling, on the media or on the Anthony jurors plea for privacy.

But he argues forcefully that judges in Florida have adequate authority to impose restrictions in circumstances where they are needed, and that an "overbroad exception to the constitutional right of access" is a bad idea.

He is right. Please be attentive if that bad idea suddenly becomes part of the public discourse in your state.


Visit First Amendment Foundation for the entire issue paper.

— by Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director, NFOIC