Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Juror Names Must Be Disclosed

Date: June 1, 2007

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the First Amendment requires access to juror identities in most cases.  However, juror addresses need not be disclosed. “Disclosing jurors’ names furthers the objective of a fair trial to the defendant and gives assurances of fairness to society as a whole,” Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy wrote in a 20-page opinion.The Supreme Court’s decision involved a case that focused on the 2003 western Pennsylvania murder trial of a podiatrist accused of suffocating his wife. The Westmoreland County trial judge withheld the names of jurors. The state Superior Court upheld that ruling, and two Pittsburgh news organizations appealed to the state’s highest court.

What to do about juror identities is an issue of growing importance to judges nationwide as more high-profile trials play out on cable and network television – often with jurors interviewed as soon as the verdict is in. The news organizations – Tribune-Review Publishing Co. and WPXI Inc. – contended that revealing the jurors’ names and addresses would bolster confidence in the judicial system.

Cappy wrote that juror names were generally available to the public as far back as colonial days, noting that the jurors in the Aaron Burr trial were listed in court records. The practice continues today, he went on, as prospective jurors often are identified during jury selection in open court.

Disclosing the names, Cappy went on, “allows the public to participate in the judicial process and furthers the fairness and the appearance of fairness of the criminal trial, since the public can confirm the impartiality of the proceedings and the prospective jurors are more likely to tell the truth.”

Cappy said that in some circumstances disclosing names could raise concerns for jury safety, tampering or harassment. Names could be withheld in some instances, he said, or perhaps until a case was decided.  But Cappy said such action “must be supported by specific findings demonstrating that there is a substantial probability that an important right will be prejudiced by publicity and that reasonable alternatives to closure cannot adequately protect that right.” Cappy said the refusal to disclose jurors’ identities in the Westmoreland County case was unwarranted.

John P. Finnerty, Esquire

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.