Sometimes there can be a fine line between the integrity of the process of a fair and impartial trial and the safety and concern the system has for the members of the jury. In an upcoming case, it is up to a Federal Judge to decide this difficult balance between unfair prejudice against the defendant and potentially putting the jurors at risk. A notorious street gang leader, Juan “Tito” Briseno is on trial for thirteen gang related murders and nineteen gang related attempted murders. Briseno himself is alleged to have physically participated in six of the murders and seven of the attempted murders. Briseno is facing the possibility of the death penalty for these gang related murders and attempted murders.
The government is seeking an anonymous jury, arguing that the jury members’ identities in this case should be kept secret to protect the jury members and their families from gang members. Briseno’s gang is known to be a “particularly violent and vicious street gang, who go to extreme lengths to shoot and kill those who are viewed as threats.” The prosecutor argued to the court that this gang shot a former gang member for allegedly cooperating with law enforcement officials and voiced his concern about what other gang members might do if they were able to access the jurors’ personal information. The defense attorney on the other hand, argues that “jurors could be prejudiced against his client if such action is taken. He indicated jurors could think their identities are being kept secret because Briseno already has been determined to be a particularly dangerous person.” Judge Philip Simon cited an opinion stating that “an anonymous jury ‘is an extreme measure,’” he went on to explain that “it should be done only when some type of jury tampering is likely to occur.”
This article raises some controversial issues. A defendant is entitled to an unprejudiced and fair trial, but what is not clear is at what costs? If the court can determine that it is an undisputed fact that he is in fact a member of this gang then I believe the juror’s identities should be kept secret if the court finds that there is a true potential risk or threat to the jury members. Jury members are performing their civic duty to help the justice system; our system already has a difficult time trying to get people to perform their civic duty. If the judge was to not keep their identities secret and something was to happen to one of them because of their duty, thousands of people would be scared to fulfill their civic duty. Although this may cause some prejudice to the defendant, the court may be able to instruct the jury in a way that lowers the potential for prejudice against the defendant himself. The court may be able to instruct the jury that due to the sensitive nature of the case their identities will not be made public. The jury’s main focus would still be to decide if he actually participated in these murders and if the evidence supports these claims. I think the jury would have an easier time trying to make this decision knowing that their identities were not being made public.