PHOENIX — Arizonans have no legal right to know the names of jurors who decide criminal cases.
The state Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected arguments by the publisher of the Cochise County Record that there is a First Amendment right of the public to know not just who sits on the panel, but even those who are considered serving. David Morgan, backed by the Journalists Committee for Freedom of the Press, argued that the names of jurors and even potential jurors have always been open to the press and the general public.
But Judge Ann Scott Timmer did not deny that it was true, both in Arizona and in other states.
In fact, she noted that judges have always been able to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to make jurors’ names public. What Morgan was looking for was a requirement that they do so in every case, which was denied in two cases in Cochise County.
The judges refused to go that far.
Timmer said there were potential negative effects if jurors had their names available for release.
And she dismissed claims that denying such information interferes with the public’s ability to ensure trials are conducted fairly.
“Anyone can sit in the courtroom during a criminal trial and observe the jury selection process, including the voir dire reviews,” she said, the part of the process where prospective jurors are interviewed by attorneys about their backgrounds and potential biases. And Timmer said they can observe when a lawyer challenges a potential juror “for cause,” meaning bias or a specific reason.
This would also be true when lawyers use peremptory challenges, the right of either party to dismiss jurors without citing a reason. But Timmer noted that the Supreme Court ended that right in January.
“Access to the names of jurors would not add significantly to the public’s ability to ensure that the voir dire is conducted fairly or to verify that the courts are not following established standards for the selection of jurors” , she said.
Morgan told Capitol Media Services that Tuesday’s decision was not a total loss.
He pointed out that Arizona judges remain free to release the names of jurors. In fact, Timmer said that if a court refuses access, “a best practice would be to explain its reasoning on the record.”
And he stressed that nothing in the ruling prevents jurors — those selected for trial and those who did not sit — from publicly revealing their own names.
Morgan also said he was considering whether to take the case to federal court.
The case stems from two criminal trials in Cochise County where judges use an “unnamed” jury, that is, a jury where jurors are publicly identified only by number but whose names are provided to parts.
In both cases, the public was allowed to witness both the jury selection and the trials. But the judges refused a request from Morgan and Terri Jo Neff, who writes for the Arizona Independent (which is not related to the Daily Independent), to release the names publicly.
Morgan had no better luck with the Court of Appeals, returning the case to the Supreme Court.
Evan Steele, representing Morgan, told the judges that having a name allows the public or media to contact jurors for interviews.
But Judge William Montgomery stressed during oral arguments in April that there was no right to conduct such interviews.
Steele also said there is a particular need for this kind of openness in criminal cases. He said the interest goes beyond the defendant’s interest in obtaining a fair trial and the victim’s interest in the outcome.
“The public has an interest, and an acknowledged interest, according to the (US) Supreme Court, in seeing justice done,” Steele said.
Timmer acknowledged that other courts, faced with the same question, have concluded that there is a legitimate reason to make the names of potential jurors public.
For example, she says, it could deter them from twisting their answers during the questioning process and even allow observers to do their own investigation to determine if those answers were accurate. And it could also ensure that the pool of potential jurors reflects the makeup of the community.
But Timmer said she and her colleagues don’t see it as a legitimate role for the public in Arizona.
“The audience’s role in the voir dire is that of an observer, not that of a participant in charge of selecting a fair jury,” she said.
“The judge and the parties bear that responsibility,” Timmer continued. “They receive the names of potential jurors and are highly motivated to protect the integrity of the process, ensure the panel of jurors is made up of a fair cross-section of the community, and dig up any information that demonstrates juror bias.”
She also doubted that providing names would encourage potential jurors to be more open during the questioning process.
“It’s just as likely that such access would motivate them to be less forthcoming to avoid public embarrassment on very sensitive topics, such as disabilities, medications and past experiences as victims of crime,” Timmer said.
And she said there were other privacy issues.
“In the age of the Internet, where jurors’ names can trigger lightning-fast access to a wealth of biographical information, including addresses, any marginally positive role in releasing jurors’ names to the public is outweighed by the risk to the integrity of the jury,” Timmer wrote. .