The state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that a list of jurors in criminal cases must be made public at the completion of the trial, a ruling that stemmed from a Boston Globe appeal in the case of Nathaniel Fujita, a Wayland teenager convicted of murdering his former girlfriend.
“We take this opportunity to direct that a list of the names of jurors empaneled in any criminal case be included in the court file of the case, no later than at the completion of the trial,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled.
In a decision written by Justice Robert Cordy, the court cited the longstanding rights of public access to court proceedings, rights that are “intended to ensure and instill public confidence and trust in our system of justice, and in the integrity and fairness of its proceedings.”
Chief Justice Ralph Gants agreed that the names of jurors should be public, but dissented on the remedy adopted by his six fellow justices.
During the Fujita trial, the Globe filed a motion to obtain the names and addresses of jurors after they reached a verdict, for the purposes of interviewing them about the trial.
But after Fujita was found guilty in March 2013 of murdering Lauren Astley, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat ruled that he would write to jurors to ask if they were “amenable” to speaking with the press, and would provide only the names of those who said they were, according to the decision.
The following month, the Superior Court clerk’s office provided the Globe the names of two jurors who were willing to speak to the press, along with instructions that the Globe was not allowed to disseminate the information to other “news agencies or third persons.”
The Globe appealed the judge’s ruling, which was overturned Tuesday by the SJC.
“Only on a judicial finding of good cause, which may include a risk of harm to the jurors or to the integrity of their service, may such a list be withheld,” Cordy wrote in the 22-page decision.
The only basis for the order was “the judge’s aversion to exposing jurors to press interviews and the personal preferences of the jurors,” the court wrote.
The court also ruled that prohibiting the Globe from further disseminating the names constituted prior restraint of the press forbidden by the First Amendment.
“It is beyond debate that, absent extraordinary circumstances, the identities of jurors empaneled to serve at criminal trials are presumptively public under longstanding Massachusetts law, practice, and tradition, even in high-profile and contentious cases,” Cordy wrote.
In a footnote, the court noted that the list of the jury in the 1770 prosecutions of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre was a public record as were the names of the men who convicted John Webster for murdering Boston Brahmin George Parkman in 1850.
The Globe had provided examples of recent high-profile criminal trials where juror lists were readily available.
Cordy wrote that while a list of jurors was used to record attendance, it was not retained for the court file.
A list of addresses and phone numbers for jurors was destroyed at the end of the trial.
That prompted the court to rule that jury lists should be included in future criminal trials.
“Based on the findings of the judge in this case, it is apparent that there is inconsistency in the current practice of retaining juror lists, a matter of significant public and systemic importance,” the court ruled.
Writing separately, Gants said he agreed the names of the jurors should be public record but said the Globe could have obtained them by purchasing a transcript of the jury empanelment, rather than asking the court to create a separate document.
“The constitutional right of public access to court trials does not require courts to create documents so that the press or members of the public may learn what occurred at trial without the need to attend the trial or order a transcript,” he wrote.
While trial transcripts may be ordered “by anyone willing to pay for them,” Gants wrote that making a list of jurors a standard part of the court record will make it easier for the media to communicate with them, he wrote.
“I do not think it is wise to encourage such post-verdict communications, especially where the jurors will have no say whether they welcome such communications,” he wrote. “Neither public understanding of the judicial process nor the interests of justice are served by requiring the court to create a list of jurors that includes those who would prefer to be left alone and to file that list in the court file so that the Globe, or anyone else, may communicate with them against their wishes about the verdict they rendered.”
In July 2011, Fujita lured Astley, 18, to his home and killed her in his garage. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His lawyers had argued that he was psychotic at the time of the killing and therefore not criminally responsible.