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Proposed jury secrecy rule revised

The Advisory Committee on Rules of Court has backed off from its original proposal to have jurors in criminal court identified only by number as a matter of course.

The original draft had drawn criticism from newspapers, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and even from Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, who sponsored the legislation that mandated the rule.

Marshall said the rule went much further than anything he had contemplated.

The 2008 legislation, Virginia Code Sec. 19.2-263.3, directed judges to keep personal information about jurors secret from everyone except counsel for either party “for good cause shown.”

Such cause could include “a likelihood of bribery, tampering, or physical injury to or harassment of a juror if his personal information is disclosed.” The statute directs the Supreme Court of Virginia to develop rules to provide for the protection of personal information.

The drafters of the original rule were concerned that an effort to impose jury secrecy in some trials but not others would create an implication that the defendant in a trial with secrecy would prejudice the defendant by suggesting that he was especially dangerous.

Critics responded that imposing secrecy in all cases in an area that historically has been public was unnecessary and raised constitutional concerns.

The new proposed rule tracks the language of the statute and contains no requirement for juror anonymity in a typical case.

The committee, which reports to the Judicial Council and the Supreme Court, wants comments by April 15, so that it can consider the matter at its meeting in May.

By Alan Cooper

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