By 6-1 vote, Court of Appeals OKs juror anonymity in criminal trials

Maryland will allow anonymous juries starting Sept. 1, after the Court of Appeals voted 6-1 Monday to permit them in criminal trials when a judge believes juror safety, harassment or tampering is a concern.

The judges said juror anonymity should be a rare exception. The new rules call for all jurors to be referred to by number, not name. They allow a judge to determine if there is a reason in each case to protect the identity of jurors.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, the lone dissenter, said he had a philosophical problem with it.

"I just cannot get my arms around an anonymous jury, especially in a death penalty case," he said before voting. The issue, he said, was juror responsibility.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger supported the decision.

"We think this is a very necessary and effective tool in the day and age of gangs and violence," he said.

He pointed to the case of Patrick Byers Jr., who was sentenced to life in prison for ordering from his prison cell the 2007 killing of a witness in a separate murder case. That trial was in federal court, and jurors were not identified.

Howard County State's Attorney Dario Broccolino said he supported the decision.

"I think it is a tool that can be used, that may be necessarily used in rare instances," Broccolino said Monday.

Broccolino said he couldn't recall a recent case in Howard County where keeping jurors anonymous would have affected a verdict.

"I don't think we've come to that point in Howard County ... where we would have wanted that or needed that," Broccolino said. "But increasingly with gangs and the violence associated with them, I could see it would be necessary sometimes and we would move for it. Judges are going to be instructed to use it very carefully were it would be the exception rather than the rule."

Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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