Derek Chauvin’s jurors will now be kept anonymous, as an Order for Juror Anonymity has just been released by the District court. Most Minnesota residents have been exposed to the media coverage of George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, as have many around the world. Resulting civil uprising led to mass protests across the country which were heavily covered by the media.
A recent protest on September 11th was held outside of the courtroom where a motion hearing occurred for Chauvin and his fellow ex-officers. Defendants claim they were physically and verbally harassed, along with their attorneys. A Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office captain was harassed as well. As a result of harassment, the defense attorneys have voiced concerns for the safety of the defendants. Homes of a defendant, the head of the police union of Hennepin County, and the county attorney have all been picketed.
Under standard Minnesota court conditions, the names of the jurors may be disclosed upon request by any party. On the request of a certain party, the identity and information of jurors may be kept anonymous. An anonymous jury is not requested without cause, however. Reasonable cause to request the jury be made anonymous includes strong suggestions of a serious threat to the safety of a juror. The court must hold a hearing on the motion, and the requesting party must bring forth evidence that would warrant anonymity. A form of identification may be assigned to the jurors, which may include a numbering system. Any restriction of personal information regarding the jurors may be withheld from any party for as long as is needed. In Chauvin’s case, reasonable cause is plentiful given the recent threats from protesters.
There are numerous specific causes that warrant the anonymity of the jurors. Recent protests as well as past protests support the threat of violence towards those involved in the case. The knowledge of the case is also widespread, which would mean that if the case were moved to a different city, residents of said city would likely be aware of the case. Widespread knowledge throughout the state of MN means that there is nowhere to go that the residents of a city would not know about the case. The defendants, along with their attorneys were physically and verbally harassed by protestors on September 11th. A Hennepin County Sheriff’s office captain was harassed, following the hearing on September 11th. A protestor damaged the truck of a member of the Defense Counsel with a bicycle. The defense attorneys of the four defendants cited concerns for their safety, as well as the safety of their clients. In addition, the public has sent numerous unpleasant messages, demanding that a certain outcome be assured, that is often against the defendants. The court determined this evidence warranted the anonymity of the jurors.
Anonymous juries are considered a relatively new occurrence. Federal cases, involving an individual accused of being linked with terrorist groups, or organized crime were more often given anonymous juries. However, anonymous juries have recently been more common in cases outside of federal courts, with the first in Minnesota occurring in 1995. An anonymous jury has historically been warranted under threat of harm to the jurors and to ensure impartiality.
Given that numerous individuals involved in the Chauvin case have been threatened and harassed, the jury will likely be more willing to be completely impartial under the knowledge that their information will be confidential. Jurors are intrinsically purposed to be impartial. However, if their information were to be openly disclosed, they may face various dangers from the public. If the jurors feel imminent danger to their safety, they may feel public pressure to decide in a way that they otherwise would not have. Should the jury come to a decision that does not align with what the public would prefer, the jurors may face severe backlash. Overall, it is likely more beneficial to justice that the jurors remain anonymous.
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