|State Supreme Court:
Constitutional to withhold jurors' identities in some cases
Read the opinions
(AOC news release)
In a decision affirming the death sentence a Memphis man received for killing his girlfriend, the Tennessee Supreme Court has held for the first time that jurors' identities may be withheld if their safety could be jeopardized by disclosing their names to criminal defendants.
Writing for a 4-1 majority of the court, Justice E. Riley Anderson said issues raised by death row inmate David Ivy in his automatic appeal were not valid or did not affect the jury's decision to sentence him to death. Chief Justice William M. Barker and Justices Janice M. Holder and Cornelia A. Clark concurred in the ruling which upheld a Court of Criminal Appeals decision.
Justice Adolpho A. Birch, Jr., agreed with the majority that Ivy's conviction for premeditated first degree murder should stand. In a separate concurring and dissenting opinion, Birch said he disagreed "as to the sentence of death" based on the method used by the court to compare Ivy's case with similar cases to ensure that his sentence was not excessive or disproportionate.
Ivy was convicted and sentenced for the June 8, 2001, murder of LaKisha Thomas. The victim had sworn out a warrant for aggravated assault against Thomas, who was on parole at the time. He shot Thomas five times in front of witnesses as she sat in her car.
"On June 6, 2001, Ivy attacked Thomas and struck her in the head with a pistol," Anderson wrote in the opinion filed Tuesday. "Ivy followed Thomas as she drove to and from the Criminal Justice Center, and he threatened to kill her if 'she put the police in his business.' Two days later, Ivy approached Thomas as she sat helpless and unarmed in her car and he shot her five times at close range. Ivy's actions were intentional and premeditated. He acted without provocation or justification."
Ivy claimed in his automatic appeal that Criminal Court Judge Joseph B. Dailey violated his right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury. The trial court judge granted a prosecution request to impanel an anonymous jury based on concern for jurors' safety. Members of the jury panel were not identified by name, although prosecuting and defense attorneys were allowed to question them at length during the selection process.
"The prosecution asserted that a witness had been shot at (and her baby injured) following Ivy's preliminary hearing and that a relative of Ivy's had been charged in that incident," Anderson wrote. "The prosecution also asserted that Ivy was a danger to jurors because he had previously escaped from custody."
Anderson said the issue of whether an anonymous jury may be impaneled in a criminal case "is an issue of first impression" for the Tennessee Supreme Court. He said he could find no state law or court rule "that either permits or proscribes the use of an anonymous jury."
In other jurisdictions in which the issue has been addressed, courts "have recognized that impaneling an anonymous jury implicates a number of competing interests," Anderson wrote. Courts must balance the rights of the defendant to maintain the presumption of innocence against the jury's safety.
"In achieving this balance, many courts have adopted a two-prong framework for determining when an anonymous jury is appropriate," Anderson wrote. "The first prong is whether there is a strong reason to believe that the jury needs protection * The second prong of the framework is whether reasonable precautions will minimize prejudice to the defendant and ensure that fundamental rights are protected."
Anderson said Dailey took reasonable steps to ensure the safety of jurors and their families while also protecting Ivy's rights as a defendant.
"* We believe that anonymous juries may be impaneled under Tennessee law," Anderson wrote. "* Given the responsibilities and burdens placed upon jurors in our judicial system, we agree that adopting the two-prong framework used in other jurisdictions allows the trial court to preserve the safety and sanctity of the jury as required in appropriate cases while at the same time preserving the individual rights of the accused."
In affirming Ivy's conviction and death sentence, the court set a June 28, 2006, execution date for Ivy, who has state and federal appeals remaining.