How Do We Know So Much About Puff Daddy's Jury?

How Do We Know So Much About Puff Daddy's Jury?

How Do We Know So Much About Puff Daddy's Jury?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 12 2001 2:45 PM

How Do We Know So Much About Puff Daddy's Jury?

Today's New York Times has a blow-by-blow account of the jury deliberations in Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' recent criminal trial. The article is based on interviews with four jurors--some identified by name, others only by race. What's the rule about releasing jurors' names to the press?

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Generally speaking, jurors' identities are revealed during jury selection as both the prosecution and defense question prospective jurors and dismiss some of them. During the trial, jurors are not permitted to talk about the case. Reporters nevertheless sometimes attempt to interview jurors during trial--this usually results in a sharp warning and can even lead to court sanctions but falls short of the more serious offense of jury tampering, which requires an intent to influence trial outcome. But after the trial ends, reporters are perfectly free to request interviews, and jurors are perfectly free to grant them.

For some trials, however, a judge may require that jurors be identified only by code numbers. This "anonymous jury" option is exercised in very public trials (e.g. O.J., Rodney King, Oliver North) or, more commonly, when a judge suspects the defendant may try to, um, "improperly influence" individual jurors (e.g. John Gotti, World Trade Center bombing).

In a few jurisdictions, anonymous juries are absolutely prohibited. As with much of the law, this is partly due to an ancient English tradition that no one understands. But there's also the reasonable suspicion that anonymity signals to jurors that the judge thinks the defendant is, in fact, a dangerous thug--which hardly promotes the presumption of innocence.

At any rate, anonymity is no guarantee that the press won't hound you. In the 1983 trial of automaker John DeLorean, for instance, reporters recorded jurors' license plate numbers, tracked down their phone numbers, and requested interviews. Judges are also sometimes willing to release anonymous jurors' names after the trial is over. In short, jurors in high-profile cases can more or less expect that reporters will come knocking.

Some readers may be getting the feeling that a juror's work is never done. Well, maybe so. Last week, a group of New York jurors read in the newspaper that they'd awarded approximately $300,000 in damages. In fact, they meant to award $3 million--but someone apparently made a mathematical error. Jurors phoned the presiding judge, who has agreed to change the award to the intended $3 million. Click here for details.