COA rules on anonymous juries

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on a case with a matter of first impression involving the use of anonymous juries and if they are reviewable under the harmless error analysis.

In Carl A. Major v. State of Indiana, 45A03-0610-CR-483, Carl Major appealed his convictions of murder in the perpetration of a robbery and aggravated felony, and his aggregate sentence of 175 years in prison, arguing the trial court erred in empanelling an anonymous jury and that his sentence is inappropriate.

Major and two other males participated in a home invasion and robbery of a house in Hobart where crack was sold that had six individuals inside. One of his accomplices shot and killed three of the individuals and wounded two. Fearing the police were near, the three men ran from the site, but Major was apprehended a short while later. Major admitted to the police he agreed to help one of the men handle some business in exchange for getting paid, he knew they were going to commit a robbery, and that he carried a gun and guarded the house so no one could leave.

During voir dire in Major's trial, the defense counsel objected to the use of the "local rule," which prevented both counsels from having the names of the jurors. The court overruled, stating it would keep the names of the jurors at the bench and record the names with the court administrator's office in case there are issues of impropriety with the jury.

Major was sentenced to 55 years for each murder conviction and 10 years for the aggravated battery conviction; he was to serve those consecutively for a total of 175 years.

Major appealed, contending the use of an anonymous jury denied him certain federal rights to a fair trial and impartial jury. This is a case of first impression in Indiana, and the Court of Appeals looked to other courts for their rulings on the matter, including the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court has found empanelment of anonymous juries implicates a defendant's Fifth Amendment right to presumption of innocence. United States V. Mansoori, 304 F.3d 635, 650 (7th Cir. 2002). The appeals court noted many courts, including the 7th Circuit, have also observed that empaneling an anonymous jury may interfere with a defendant's right to a trial by an impartial jury under the Sixth Amendment. United States v. Shryock, 342 F.3d at 971 (9th Cir. 2003).

Appellate courts considering this issue have relied on the standard that a trial court may have an anonymous jury if it concludes there is strong reason to believe the jury needs protection and takes reasonable measures to minimize any prejudicial effects on the defendant and to ensure his fundamental rights are protected. Courts may consider issues such as the defendant's involvement in organized crime, past attempts to interfere with judicial process, and whether publicity regarding the case presents prospective danger to the jurors.

The Court of Appeals concludes Indiana should adopt a similar position as other courts have regarding the use of anonymous juries and each case should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In evaluating Major's case, the court determined the use of an anonymous jury was an error because the trial court did not make a factual determination that the jury needed protection, it just alluded to the "local rule."

The state contends this was a harmless error, and the 7th Circuit has applied the harmless error analysis to the anonymous jury question. In this case, "given Major's confessions, the otherwise thorough nature of the voir dire, and the court's instructions regarding Major's presumption of innocence, we are convinced the error of the anonymous jury in this case was harmless," wrote Judge Cale Bradford. The court also affirmed Major's sentence was not inappropriate in light of his character and nature of his offenses.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.