St. Mary's Law Journal


In United States v. Brown, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district courts use of anonymous jury orders. The use of anonymous juries, however, is either a necessary protection for jury members or an unfair procedural practice. The Fifth Circuit’s support for anonymous juries included concerns over threats, intimidation, and possible attempts to influence juror members in order to secure a favorable verdict. The promise of a jury of one's peers is a cornerstone of the United States judicial system. Implicit in this guarantee is the assurance of an impartial jury. Nonetheless, a jury that sits in fear may not fulfill this expectation of impartiality. Therefore, the security of an anonymity order may serve to solidify the constitutional tenet of the impartial jury trial. Prior to the Brown decision, the rationales for U.S. District Courts in the Fifth Circuit justifying the use of anonymous juries could be divided into one of two groups: the first in response to potential threats to the jury from either a defendant or the defendant's associates; and the second arising from the recognition of possible media influence upon the jurors that could jeopardize a party’s right to a fair trial. In Brown, the Fifth Circuit blended these two distinct justifications. The expansive scope of the Brown opinion included elements of both justifications for anonymous juries, viewing them as interdependent, rather than independent components. With the court affirming the majority of anonymous jury orders, the ability of a district court to empanel an anonymous jury are expanding in the Fifth Circuit.


St. Mary's University School of Law