Why Courts Use Anonymous Juries, Like In Freddie Gray Case : The Two-Way Experts trace the first completely anonymous jury to 1977. That's when a judge worried about possible jury tampering by a drug kingpin named Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, a man also known as Mr. Untouchable.

Why Courts Use Anonymous Juries, Like In Freddie Gray Case

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As Jennifer just said, the jurors in the Freddie Gray case will have their identities kept from the public, at least for now. The practice is controversial but not unheard of in high-profile cases. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Experts trace the first completely anonymous jury - secret not just in the media but also to the defendant - to 1977. That's when a judge worried about possible jury tampering by drug kingpin named Leroy Nicky Barnes, a man also known as Mr. Untouchable. Paula Hannaford-Agor studies jury issues at the National Center for State Courts.

PAULA HANNAFORD-AGOR: They tend to be only used in very, very high profile trials or trials in which there is a serious threat to either the safety of the jurors or the integrity of the jury process.

JOHNSON: Hannaford-Agor says there are plenty of examples in recent years of a more limited approach - keeping juror names from public and the press during the trial, but releasing the information later. She says courts recognize a legitimate need to protect the jury.

HANNAFORD-AGOR: There are issues associated with this. This is not necessarily a risk-free civic engagement.

JOHNSON: Issues like TV camera people turning up at a juror's door late at night and death threats from neighbors unhappy about the verdict. That happened in Florida in 2011 when a young woman named Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder in the death of her daughter.

HANNAFORD-AGOR: Vendors were putting up signs in their windows, Casey Anthony jurors not welcome here. One juror actually left the state because she was basically afraid for her life.

JOHNSON: First Amendment scholars worry that secrecy once reserved for cases of gangsters and terrorists has been extended to jurors in lots of other contexts - case in point, the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich and the prosecution of George Zimmerman. He's the self-described neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin in Florida three years ago. Gregg Leslie works at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

GREGG LESLIE: If you start by default having jurors who are secret even well after the trial, it really will start to - and in fact it has, I think, started to have an effect on how the public perceives how just the system is.

JOHNSON: Leslie points out the nation's already debating the fairness of the justice system in part because of the deaths of young black men in encounters with police. And he says transparency as these cases move through the courts will help restore credibility. Jurors may be exposed to unwanted attention with some cost to their privacy, but Leslie says too much secrecy has a cost, too, like when jurors whose identities are shielded by the courts lie or cover up conflicts during the selection process. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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