Earlier this month, three judges from the 1st District Court of Appeals in Ohio ruled that Hamilton County Judge Leslie Ghiz should have released questionnaires used in jury selection prior to the second trial of Ray Tensing. Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati police officer, fatally shot Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop in July of 2015. Murder charges against Tensing were dismissed after a 2016 trial ended in a mistrial, and a retrial in May ended in a hung jury.
The 2015 incident ignited considerable controversy as one of several highly publicized fatal police shootings involving an unarmed black suspect. Tensing, who is white, initially claimed to have fired his weapon when DuBose began to drive off while his arm was caught in the vehicle. However, prosecutors alleged video footage from Tensing’s bodycam showed he was not being dragged, and he was later indicted by a grand jury on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter.
In the court’s decision, the three appellate judges ruled unanimously that Ghiz should have released the 180 questionnaires completed by potential jurors – redacting their names and personal information – immediately after conducting a hearing on the matter and prior to the beginning of the second trial in May 2017. The court’s written opinion further stated reasons cited by Ghiz for not releasing them – including stoking racial tension and fears expressed by some prospective jurors over personal safety – were insufficient to support her decision that the questionnaires be withheld in their entirety from the public.
The court also ruled 2-1 to dismiss requests made by news organizations over releasing unreacted questionnaires and blocking various media restrictions set in place by Ghiz for the retrial, including limited camera access. Media attorneys have stated that news organizations will consider an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court to allow for the release of some information regarding jurors’ identities, and for a ruling against news coverage restrictions.
Jury selection is a critical part of any criminal trial, and especially so in high profile cases. As Attorney Brad Koffel notes:
“Seating a jury in a highly charged and racially infused case in a tinderbox of a city like Cincinnati is exceptionally difficult. Exposing information about jurors is a horrible idea. There is a very real risk of undue influence by having jurors’ identities revealed prior to or during a trial.”