Citing Budget Cuts, Judge Rejects Juror-Protection Measures
A federal judge has lamented that federal budget cuts will prevent him from instituting all the measures sought by the prosecution to safeguard jurors he acknowledged would need protection during the trial of gang members charged with murder and other violent acts.
Prosecutors from the Eastern District U.S. Attorney's Office asked Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. (See Profile) to make the jurors anonymous and to partially-sequester them during the trial of four alleged members of the Nine-Trey Gangsters, which operated for 16 years in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Johnson granted anonymity, saying "the government has sufficiently met its burden in establishing that the jury in this case needs protection."
He noted that two of the defendants had a "demonstrable history of obstructing justice" in the present case and in other proceedings.
Moreover, he said there "is no question" that the seriousness of the charges, including one murder and four cases of attempted murder, warranted protection. Finally, he noted that the case was likely to attract media interest.
But he stopped short of granting partial sequestration, whereby jurors would be kept together at lunch and accompanied by U.S. Marshals in and out of the courthouse to avoid mingling with the public or trial spectators.
Johnson said the price tag for that step was "not insubstantial" and noted the recent one-defendant death penalty trials for Ronell Wilson and Vincent Basciano that used juror sequestration, each cost the Judiciary between $3 million and $4 million.
Johnson's decision did not say what portion of those overall costs could be attributed to partial sequestration.
"In deciding the instant motion, the Court must also be mindful of today's economic climate," Johnson said in United States v. Spicer, 10-cr-657. "Because of the toxic atmosphere on Capitol Hill, Congress and the Administration have been unable or unwilling to produce a budget. As a result, on March 1, 2013, [budget] sequestration went into effect. Sequestration to some means mandatory budget cuts. Sequestration to the Judiciary means more. It means unrelenting, unforgiving pain. Procedures, such as partial sequestration of jurors, have fallen victim to the devastating mandatory cuts."
Congress this year slashed $350 million from the courts' budget. The Judiciary is pressing hard for an increase in the upcoming fiscal year, but there is concern further cuts might be in the offing when the new year begins on Oct. 1.