A provocative, clickbait title from me? Yep! But unlike the other clickbaity things you’ll see on the Internet, this one actually has some meat to it.
CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz tweeted that the judge in the Paul Manafort trial will be hearing a motion by media types (lead by guess who) to allow the unsealing of the names and addresses of jurors, as well as other secret parts of the trial not yet unsealed. Let me put it another way. CNN (who really isn’t a party in the trial aside from reporting on it) filed a motion with a judge (who has the legal authority to make rulings on motions by parties involved in a trial) to reveal information about that trial, including identifying information of the jurors charged with giving a verdict on that trial.
Anyone else see a biiiiiiiiig problem with that?
Under the current legal set-up, jurors are allowed to speak to the press if they choose after a trial is over, which is fine. Often this provides valuable insight into the trial, such as why some people shouldn’t serve on juries. The important part of this is choice. Jurors aren’t required to speak or justify their decisions to anyone.
With one motion, CNN wants to strip away that choice under the auspices of a need to know. And the judge agreed, saying, “A thirsty press is essential in a free country.”
Good to know we have such thoughtful judges serving in our judicial system, huh? (By the way, that was sarcasm.)
This is bad precedent and even worse policy in today’s hyper-partisan environment. It wasn’t that long ago that a lunatic decided to shoot Steve Scalise over an ideological difference. Heather Heyer was run over and protesting while protesting against white supremacists in Charlottesville. And let’s not forget our good friends Antifa and BLM in this conversation. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s becoming dangerous to have an opinion.
Good thing juries aren’t in the opinion business, right? Oh, wait!
Regardless of when CNN and the rest of the media get the jurors’ information, it will have a dangerous effect on jury trials going forward because it will be used by everyone from CNN to the Podunk Super Shopper to get information they have no legitimate claim to in the name of a story. That will put pressure on anyone called for jury duty to come to the “right” decision if only to preserve his or her security. Imagine serving on a jury where the facts state the defendant is guilty, but public opinion says he or she is innocent and the press will let people know who you are and where you live. The pressure would be unbearable and will lead to unjust decisions based on emotion, not on facts.
Granted, our judicial system makes bad decisions all the time, but that isn’t a justification for taking the step CNN took. There is no legitimate need for them to have juror information and other sealed documents from the trial.
But here’s the M. Night Shyamalan twist CNN and the media haven’t considered. If the judge rules in CNN’s favor, Paul Manafort’s legal team has solid grounds for a mistrial and/or an appeal. The judge has already shown an inability to be impartial by entertaining CNN’s motion and the pressure on the jurors to come up with a particular verdict to try to appease a partisan audience all but guarantees an unfair trial.
But, hey, who cares about the rule of law, amirite?