Improper to Withhold Juror Names from Counsel Absent Actual Risk to the Jurors
September 25th, 2021

In People v. Lopez (2021) 65 Cal.App.5th 484 the judge withheld from the attorneys the names of prospective jurors, identifying them only by their badge number, out of a concern the attorneys or a member of the public or press would obtain additional information about the jurors or contact them. Lopez objected, and the court stated this was its general practice in order to protect the security of the jurors.


On appeal the reviewing court held that Code of Civil Procedure section 237 does not authorize sealing of juror identifying information at any stage of a civil or criminal action prior to the return of the jury verdict.


The empanelment of an anonymous jury is allowed only where (1) there are strong grounds for concluding that it is necessary to ensure juror protection and (2) reasonable safeguards are adopted by the trial court to minimize any risk of infringement upon the fundamental rights of the accused. (People v. Thomas (2012) 53 Cal.4th 771, 788.) Anonymous juries may infer that the dangerousness of those on trial required their anonymity, thereby implicating defendants’ abridging the defendant’s federal constitutional right to a presumption of innocence.


In Lopez there was no evidence of any danger of physical harm or likely interference with the prospective jurors if their names were disclosed. The trial court’s concerns were not based on the actual risk to prospective jurors in this specific case. Accordingly, there was no basis under section 237 to keep the prospective jurors’ names concealed from counsel. (People v. Lopez. supra.)