Jury selection continues Tuesday for the trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, also known as "El Chapo." A judge is keeping the jury anonymous to protect its members from intimidation.
As Adam Benforado, a professor at Drexel University's Kline School of Law, explains, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the defendant's right to participate in the jury selection process — also known as "voire dire" — as "jurors are being asked questions about their backgrounds and their biases."
However, jurors have been targeted with threats and violence in the past, Benforado (@Benforado) says, and it is common for jurors — even in less-publicized criminal cases — to feel anxious about interacting with defendants.
“I would question the reasonableness of a juror who felt completely comfortable in those circumstances,” he tells Here & Now’s Robin Young.
On the pros and cons of impaneling an anonymous jury
“There's always a fear about lack of transparency in our system. We have deliberately taken steps over a period of really centuries to have a system that the public can monitor, and so I think anonymous juries are always a fear for people who believe in our Constitutional system.
“At the same time, the truth is there have been incidents of violence and intimidation against jurors, and I think that reality means that it really is a necessity in a case like this. I don't think there's any way around it, and the question is just simply how do we do it in a way that upholds the rights of the defendant to the greatest extent possible.
“Now, I'll give you an example. In yesterday's questioning of prospective jurors, one of the jurors mentioned that he was a Michael Jackson impersonator, and what did the judge do? Well, the judge said, 'Well, that's a potential concern,' but left him in the pool. And to me, that's a real problem. How many Michael Jackson impersonators are there out in New York City? Not enough that that preserves that man's anonymity.”
On the practice of keeping jurors anonymous during the trial, then releasing their names after it ends
“I think the benefits of that is that the accountability and transparency does come at some point, and journalists can go back over the details and uncover potential biases that may have been missed.
“The danger obviously in a case like this is the possibility of reprisal by a dangerous defendant. If the goal was really to protect people, I don't think that works to wait for a four-month trial to be over and then release the names. Certainly a violent drug gang may still want to send a message in future trials and future cases, and so I think that it doesn't really address that concern.”
Ashley Bailey produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Jackson Cote adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on November 6, 2018.