Criminal Justice Secrets

56 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2021 Last revised: 12 May 2023

See all articles by Meghan J. Ryan

Meghan J. Ryan

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: 2022


The American criminal justice system is cloaked in secrecy. The government employs covert surveillance operations. Grand-jury proceedings are hidden from public view. Prosecutors engage in closed-door plea-bargaining and bury exculpatory evidence. Juries convict defendants on secret evidence. Jury deliberations are a black box. And jails and prisons implement clandestine punishment practices. Although there are some justifications for this secrecy, the ubiquitous nature of it is contrary to this nation’s Founders’ steadfast belief in the transparency of criminal justice proceedings. Further, the pervasiveness of secrecy within today’s criminal justice system raises serious constitutional concerns. The accumulation of secrecy and the aggregation of these concerns create a real constitutional problem.

Keywords: Secrecy, Criminal Justice, Transparency, Surveillance, Investigation, Grand Jury, Plea-Bargaining, Discovery, Conviction, Evidence, Punishment, Eighth Amendment, Equal Protection, Due Process, Confrontation Clause, Fourth Amendment

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Meghan J., Criminal Justice Secrets ( 2022). 59 American Criminal Law Review 1541 (2022), SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 524, Available at SSRN:

Meghan J. Ryan (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States


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