The title asks it all. In the US court system.
In general, no. The Confrontation Clause of the US Constitution provides: “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
It’s certainly possible for grand jury testimony to remain anonymous, but direct testimony for a petit jury – that is, at a criminal trial – would very likely not pass the Confrontation Clause test.
There are some exceptions for the admission of hearsay testimony, but they don’t typically involve anonymous witnesses, merely witnesses that are not present.
How about witnesses for the defense? Presumably, they would not run afoul of the Confrontation Clause.
Thanks a ton Bricker!
True, but there’s also the public interest in knowing exactly what was said and by whom, to assess the fairness of the proceedings. As well, if the defence witness is anonymous, how can the prosecutor do a proper cross-examination? It would hamper the fairness of the trial process.
What would be the purpose of remaining anonymous from the Prosecutor?
You can testify non-publicly if there is a risk outside of the defense. They close the court so that the only people remaining are the judge, bailiffs, Prosecution, defense and Jury. The identity of the witness is anonymous to the world at large but not to the involved parties.
The New Hamphire Supreme Court just considered a case where a police detective was permitted to testify wearing a ski mask. The detective was testifying concerning a sexual assault on a child, but subsequent to thje case had joined the narcotics undercover unit and the department did not want to endanger his safety. The state high court, looking at the fact that there was substantial other evidence in the case, upheld the conviction under the harmless error doctrine.
But was that a case of an anonymous witness, where the other side doesn’t know who the witness is? Or just that he didn’t want his face seen in public, but the defence would have known who he was?
Th edefense knew his name – indeed, it was part of the record on appeal. It was just his face they wanted to conceal.
But it seemed at least tangentially relevant to the thread, if not the OP’s specific question.
I remember seeing on the news 25 years ago- a witness testifying against the mafia.They were speaking very publicly—in a televised courtroom–, but completely disguised.
(Brought to court completely covered in a blanket, sitting in a wheel chair, so their height and body size was unrecognizable, wearing a motorcycle helmet and a military gas mask to cover the head and face.They spoke through a microphone with electronic distortion that sounded more like a mechanical robot than a person.
Is my memory right? And was it a commonly accepted courtroom practice?