A Baltimore judge’s order granting anonymity to the jurors who will decide whether a city police officer bears responsibility in the death of Freddie Gray Jr. marks the latest in what legal observers say is a growing phenomenon, according to the Washington Post: Those who dole out justice in the country’s most sensitive cases sometimes do so without having to reveal their identities to the public.
The first anonymous jury seems to have been used in a drug conspiracy case in New York in the late 1970s. In that case, authorities were concerned about possible retaliation against jurors or their family members. Legal observers say the grant of anonymity has been employed persistently since then in some of the nation’s most high-profile gang, terrorism and drug cases, but also in a number of less high-stakes matters and in instances in which judges felt that jurors deserved privacy from media inquiries.
An anonymous jury was used in the case of Adis Medunjanin, who was convicted of plotting to bomb New York City’s subway system, and in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known to most as the “underwear bomber.” Jurors were reportedly first given anonymity in D.C. federal court in 1989 in the trial of notorious drug gang leader Rayful Edmond III, who, at the time of his arrest, was reported to have controlled 20 percent of the city’s cocaine trade and run a network of enforcers linked to 30 killings.
In 2012, a federal appeals court panel affirmed a lower court’s decision to use an anonymous jury in a Baltimore narcotics case in which the killing of witnesses was an issue.
C. Justin Brown, a lawyer in that case who argued against having an anonymous jury, said the Gray case is somewhat different, in that the concern is not necessarily about those on trial.
“They’re probably trying to protect the jurors from people in the community who might react angrily to a verdict of not guilty,” Brown said, who is not connected to the Gray case. But one of Porter’s attorneys worked with Brown on the Baltimore narcotics case.
The jurors who acquitted the Los Angeles officers caught on tape beating Rodney King were anonymous. And, initially, so too were the jurors who acquitted George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager whom Zimmerman confronted as the teen walked through a Florida neighborhood. The jurors’ names were later released after media outlets intervened.
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