Andrew D. Leipold, a professor of law in the U. of I. College of Law, has written extensively about criminal procedure and the pretrial process in criminal cases. He addresses the unusual decision by U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel to seat an anonymous jury, to be identified only by assigned numbers, in the "Family Secrets" trial now under way in Chicago. He was interviewed by Mark Reutter, the business and law editor of the U. of I. News Bureau.
What is the significance of this trial, which accuses five men of racketeering and conspiracy for their alleged roles in controlling something called the Chicago Outfit?
The Chicago Outfit is an organized crime family, and this trial has targeted some of its highest-ranking members. Among those who are expected to go on trial are the alleged former head of the Outfit, a member who was once reported to be the top loan shark in Chicago, and a former Chicago police officer accused of working for the mob. The prosecutors will try to show how these men and others engaged in a pattern of racketeering over the years that included 18 gangland murders. The trial shows that the law not only has a long arm but a long memory - several of these murders took place about 30 years ago.
When was the last time that an anonymous jury sat in federal court in Chicago?
As far as I know, the procedure hasn't been used since the early 1990s, in the trial of another alleged mobster, Ernest Infelice. But it wouldn't be surprising to see anonymous juries used in other cases in the coming years. Anytime you have allegations of group criminal activity, whether it is organized crime or terrorism, jurors might worry that there are other group members who could try to pressure them into voting to acquit. Personal information is so easily accessible these days that courts might be more willing to take steps to protect jurors in carrying out their very important role.
So anonymity is needed to protect the jurors in the case?
Hard to say, because the government's motion was filed under seal, so no one but the judge knows what kinds of evidence the prosecutor offered that the jurors might be at risk. I'm guessing that Judge Zagel was influenced by the allegation that one of the defendants, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, is accused of being responsible for the 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert, who was supposed to be a witness against Lombardo in an earlier trial. But unless the court heard direct threats against these jurors, all the judge can do is make predictions and guard against risks. From the outside looking in, the rest of us just have to trust that the judge evaluated the risks correctly.
Does an anonymous jury raise Constitutional issues of fairness?
There is some danger that the procedure will signal to the jury that the court believes that the defendants are dangerous men, which is not the mind-set we want jurors to start with. That's why we don't make the accused wear prison clothes or shackles in court - because we don't want to give these cues about defendants unless there is a compelling reason to do so. Having said this, I'm not sure how influenced the jury will be by their anonymous status; the hope is that if being anonymous sets the jurors' minds at ease, they will better be able to pay attention to the evidence presented at the trial.