Closed voir dire process in Cortez trial may be unconstitutional, Zansberg says

From The Cortez Journal:  Despite a legal opinion that a closed voir dire process is unconstitutional, more than half the potential jurors summoned in a sex assault case this week were questioned privately.

During the noon hour on Tuesday, March 3, Chief District Court Judge Doug Walker met with prosecutors and defense attorneys in open court to review 109 juror questionnaires. The court then decided on its own that 59 should be questioned behind closed doors.

Public defender Amy R. Smith said the decision to close the jury selection process to the public was made to “spare people” from talking about things that might be uncomfortable. District Attorney Will Furse added that the private talks would “avoid tainting” the viewpoints of other potential jurors.

One court officer questioned the court’s judgment. Steven Zansberg, president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said the U.S. Supreme Court had made it clear that the jury selection process was presumptively open. Zansberg is also a lawyer for The Cortez Journal, Associated Press and other Colorado newspapers.

Zansberg explained that individual jurors who individually relayed discomfort talking about personal experiences could request to be questioned privately. But, he added the court shouldn’t offer a blanket presumption that jurors might be uncomfortable, even in a sex assault case.

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