Saturday, June 22, 2013

Closing courtroom violates Public Trial Clause

Rebecca L.Kurz won in State v. Cox, No.  103,674 (Kan.  June 21, 2013), obtaining a new trial in a Labette County aggravated criminal sodomy prosecution.  During the jury trial, the district court cleared the courtroom while photographs of the victim’s genitalia were displayed and discussed.  Defense counsel suggested that the district court’s concerns could be addressed by simply passing photographs to the jurors without closing the courtroom.  The KSC held that the district court’s procedure violated the Public Trial Clause:

The district judge's wholesale closure of the courtroom during the presentation of this evidence, in the absence of the State or the judge expressing any “overriding interest” combined with the lack of meaningful consideration of alternatives, violated Cox's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.
 
The KSC reiterated that a Public Trial Clause violation cannot be harmless and also rejected the state’s attempt to have the case remanded to allow the district court to make some retrospective findings with regard to the need to completely close the courtroom.

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