In a Nov. 6 interview on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” program, Professor Adam Benforado discussed a decision by the judge in the trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to maintain the jury’s anonymity.
Guzman is standing trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York for allegedly ordering murders, kidnappings and assaults as the purported leader of the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel for 25 years. He has escaped from prison twice.
The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to participate in the jury selection process as potential jurors are asked about their backgrounds and biases, Benforado said.
“There’s always a fear about lack of transparency in our system,” Benforado explained. “We have deliberately taken steps over a period of really centuries to have a system that the public can monitor, and so I think anonymous juries are always a fear for people who believe in our Constitutional system.”
Benforado noted, however, that jurors in criminal trials have faced threats and violence in the past, and that it’s common for them to feel anxious, even in the cases of less notorious defendants.
“I would question the reasonableness of a juror who felt completely comfortable in those circumstances,” Benforado said.
Releasing the jurors’ names after the trial is over could promote transparency but still put the jurors at risk, Benforado added.
“The danger obviously in a case like this is the possibility of reprisal by a dangerous defendant,” he said. “If the goal was really to protect people, I don’t think that works to wait for a four-month trial to be over and then release the names. Certainly, a violent drug gang may still want to send a message in future trials and future cases, and so I think that it doesn’t really address that concern.”
Benforado is the author of “Unfair: the New Science of Criminal Injustice,” which was a New York Times bestseller and won numerous awards in 2016 and 2017.