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Reporting on Jurors and Their Deliberations

by TChris

We depend on the media to uncover hidden wrongdoing in government. To what extent should the media seek to uncover the mysterious workings of jury deliberations?

The question arises after reporters visited the Manhattan apartment building of Juror No. 4 in the Tyco trial. (Background on the trial, which ended in a mistrial after twelve days of jury deliberations, and the role played by Juror No. 4 can be found in TalkLeft posts here and here.)
Based on interviews, the NY Times reported that Juror No. 4 was a "standoffish" resident who only spoke to staff when she was giving them orders but never bothered to tip them at Christmas. The Times later confessed that, "contrary to previous reports," the juror does tip her doorman.

The Times' internal critic characterizes the coverage as accusing the juror of being "remote, cheap and stubborn." He's also disturbed "that The Times is willing to publish negative comments, made by unidentified individuals, about someone who does not have the opportunity to reply."

Taking similar shots at public officials might seem unfair, but those elected or appointed to a government office know what they're getting into and have a forum from which to fight back. Jurors are pressed into service, often unwillingly, as a public duty. They don't deserve to have their private lives made public. Interviews like those published by The Times can only dissuade citizens from serving on juries, impeding the ability of courts to give people a fair trial with a truly representative jury.

Just as threatening to the goal of a fair trial is the practice of identifying a juror by name and, without her consent, disclosing the remarks she made during deliberations.

©onsider the potential price: in press-worthy cases, will some jurors refrain from articulating their arguments for fear of public censure or harassment? Will they abandon sincerely held positions lest they become publicly known for, say, thwarting the conviction of a notorious defendant?

A free press has the right to report whatever information it can ferret out. It also has an obligation not to interfere with jury trials by reporting personal information about jurors. If jurors are obeying the rules -- not reading the news coverage -- they don't know what's being written and they have no chance to correct the record. Moreover, if jurors don't want to discuss the role they played in deliberations after the trial ends, reporters shouldn't identify that juror with specific arguments that other jurors claim she made during deliberations.

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