In the context of trials, the isolation of a jury from the public, or the separation of witnesses to ensure the integrity of testimony. In other legal contexts the seizure of property or the freezing of assets by court order.
In jury trials, judges sometimes choose to sequester the jurors, or place them beyond public reach. Usually the jurors are moved into a hotel, kept under close supervision twenty-four hours a day, denied access to outside media such as television and newspapers, and allowed only limited contact with their families.
Although unpopular with jurors, sequestration has two broad purposes. The first is to avoid the accidental tainting of the jury, and the second is to prevent others from intentionally tampering with the jurors by bribe or threat. Trial publicity, public sentiment, interested parties, and the maneuverings and machinations of lawyers outside the courtroom can all taint the jurors' objectivity and deny the defendant a fair trial. Judges are free to sequester the jury whenever they believe any of these factors may affect the trial's outcome.
Jury sequestration is rare. Typically ordered in sensational, high-profile criminal cases, sequestration begins immediately after the jury is seated and lasts until the jury has delivered its verdict. It is unusual for juries to be sequestered longer than a few days or a week. Occasionally, however, jurors are sequestered for weeks. The 1995 trial of former football star O. J. (Orenthal James) Simpson for murder was highly unusual: the Simpson jury was sequestered for eight and a half months?half as long as the period Simpson was imprisoned while under arrest and on trial. The experience provoked protest from the jurors and calls for legal reform.
The sequestration of witnesses differs from that of jurors. Whereas jurors are kept away from the public, witnesses typically are ordered not to attend the trial?or follow accounts of it?until they are to testify. This judicial order is intended to assure that the witnesses will testify concerning their own knowledge of the case without being influenced by testimony of prior witnesses. Witness sequestration also seeks to strengthen the role of cross-examination in developing facts.
Other definitions of sequestration relate to property. In CIVIL LAW, sequester has...