When the jury that will decide George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence is selected, Zimmerman and his attorneys must be provided the names of all prospective jurors and those selected. Given the high visibility of this trial, a case could be made that the press does not share this privilege.
Over the past few years, there have been several high-profile trials where media frenzy over the crime has impacted not only the defendant’s right to an impartial jury but also presented a potential or actual invasion of jurors’ privacy. In these cases, judges must decide if protecting a juror’s absolute right to privacy requires limiting the qualified right to know of the media.
The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution states the right to a speedy public trial, by an impartial jury, where the accused shall be allowed to confront those against him. The ninth amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to grant the right of privacy as a basic human right.
The defendant and his attorney(s) must know early on in the jury selection process, who the potential jurors are. They, along with the prosecution conduct an investigation into each potential juror’s background. Each side is allowed to question every potential juror. These steps are meant to ensure an impartial jury is chosen. Finding an impartial jury is made more difficult in high- profile cases given the vast amount of media coverage of the crime, investigation, and arrest. This investigation is done by the attorneys. It is not the media’s role to perform this investigation.
Once the trial is in process, the trial is public. Media is not and should not be excluded from the trial. If a judge does not allow cameras in the court or recording of the trial, reporters and sketch artists provide details and images. Sometimes, because of the potential risk to a witness, the witness’s name and face may not be used by the media in reporting the trial. But what about the jury?
Unlike the trial, jury deliberations take place in private and are not open to the public. Over the past few years, media has begun exercising what they believe to be their first amendment rights, to track down and question jurors, post-trial, about their deliberations. Unlike before and during the trial where jurors are given explicit instructions, they are not given any instructions on what may or may not be told to the media. Nor are they informed of their rights to refuse to answer media questions. I think we can all agree that reporters can be very aggressive and make it difficult to refuse to answer. At what point does the media’s qualified right to know infringe on a juror’s absolute right to privacy?
Since 1977, judges have turned to the practice of declaring a jury anonymous. Once the jury selection has been completed, the defense and prosecution have researched, questioned, and agreed that an impartial jury has been selected, jurors are assigned numbers. That is the only information given to the public. Their names and other information such as address may not be made public. Of course this does not prevent media from researching and finding out this information.
I do not believe that how a jury reached its verdict in a high-profile trial satisfies any requirement except the media’s desire to speculate. I do not see how that desire can be equated with the public’s right to know. In my opinion, it definitely does not trump the jurors’ right to privacy.