The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a request to release previously sealed juror voir dire questionnaires from the Chandra Levy trial.
Ingmar Guandique, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala with a criminal history, was charged in Levy’s murder in 2009. As part of the voir dire process in Guandique’s murder trial, jurors were asked to complete an 11-page, 55-question questionnaire.
The jurors’ responses were never released to the public. Instead, D.C. Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher released basic demographic information about the jurors: name, age, education level, and profession. The completed questionnaires, however, were sealed.
Media outlets and interest groups, including The Washington Post, Associated Press, Gannett, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), have urged the court to release the questionnaires since 2010. Judge Fisher has refused, as he promised the jurors that their responses would remain confidential.
In a hearing before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this week, the government admitted that Judge Fisher erred in the sealing the records, as there is a presumption of access to voir dire records under the First Amendment. The question now? How should the circuit court proceed to rectify the situation in light of Fisher's pledge to the jury?
The voir dire questionnaires identified jurors only by juror number, not by personally-identifiable details. In addition to general demographic information, the questionnaire inquired about each juror's familiarity with local elements of the case, like Rock Creek Park, the crime scene, the Washington Hispanic community, and familiarity with local gang activity.
The search for Levy, the Washington intern who disappeared in 2001 while jogging in Rock Creek Park, captivated headlines for over a year. While public speculation initially centered on former-Congressman Gary Condit, who was suspected of having an affair with Levy, Condit was ruled out as a suspect.