State v. Britt

In State v. Britt, 203 Wis. 2d 25, 34, 553 N.W.2d 528 (Ct. App. 1996), the Court held that the trial court may exercise its discretion and take "reasonable steps to protect the identity of potential jurors in a criminal case." The trial court may allow anonymity if there is "strong reason to believe that the jury needs protection," and if the court takes "reasonable precautions to minimize any prejudicial effect to the defendant and to ensure that his fundamental rights to a fair and impartial jury were protected." Id. at 34, 36. While anonymous juries are rare, they have been used in criminal cases, most often involving organized crime, drug-related activity or gang activity. See id. at 32. Courts have approved the use of an anonymous jury if it is necessary to protect potential jurors and their families from harassment, intimidation, bribery, publicity and other potential interferences that might make an individual afraid or apprehensive about being on a jury. See id. In Britt, the victim and witnesses were threatened or were afraid to testify in a trial against a gang member who shot and paralyzed another. See id. at 35. The prosecutor asked that the names, addresses and places of employment of potential jurors not be revealed in open court on the record. See id. at 30. The Court held that the trial court properly exercised its discretion, noting that "this pattern of victim intimidation presented sufficient grounds to reasonably believe that the jury might also be subject to tactics of fear and intimidation." Id. at 35. Moreover, the trial court took reasonable precautions to minimize prejudice and protect the defendant's rights by allowing the parties to ask general questions about the jurors' residence and employment in open court and on the record. See id. at 36. Also, the parties were allowed prior access to written questionnaires in which the jurors presumably answered these questions. See id. at 37.