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Judges: Why reveal indictments to the jury?

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Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

Criminal jury trial are fast-paced events that risk all sorts of appealable errors. While it is nice to have good appellate issues to argue in the event of a conviction, it is nicer to prevent the errors in the first place.

For whatever reason, it seems too many judges have a penchant to disclose indictments to juries, even when those indictments include damning allegations that might not even be proven at trial, or might ultimately be dropped by the prosecution before the jury begins deliberations. Chauncey L. Coleman’s judge revealed to his potential jurors that one of the counts was for being a felon in possession of a handgun, even though the parties already had stipulated to his having had an applicable felony at the time of the alleged crime. Praised be the D.C. Circuit for finding such a judicial disclosure to be reversible error, even though the defense did not object when it was disclosed. U.S. v. Coleman, ___ F.3d ___ (D.C. Cir., Jan. 16, 2009).

En banc review may be all the less in the cards here when considering that one of the three unanimous judges on the Coleman appellate panel was Douglas Ginsburg, whom Ronald Reagan found to have been conservative enough to be fit for an ultimately-aborted Supreme Court nomination. Jon Katz