COURTROOM CLOSURE: FULL OR PARTIAL EXCLUSIONS
From MN Bench Book - Trial Procedures & Practices for Judges
QUESTION: You’re in the Middle of Trial and You Get a Request to Temporarily Exclude Someone from the Court Room. What Findings Must a Judge Make Before Ordering a Full or Partial Closure of a Public Trial Including Exclusion of any Member of the Public From Any Portion of the Public Trial?
- 1) Basic Right: The right to a public trial is guaranteed by the U.S. and Mn Constitutions, however, this right ‘is not absolute and may give way in certain cases to other rights or interests’.
ANSWER: Before the court can order a full or partial closure and/or exclude any member of the public from any portion of the public trial the court must make the following (Waller) findings:
- 1) A party must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced;
- 2) The closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest;
- 3) The district court must consider reasonable alternatives to closure; and
- 4) The district court must make findings adequate to support the closure.
NOTE: Failure of the court to address the ‘Waller’ factors will result, at a minimum, in a remand.
EXAMPLE: In a 1st degree assault trial, before the testimony of a key states witness [Mary], the prosecution asked that defendant’s sisters be excluded from the courtroom during [Mary’s] testimony because they had allegedly made threatening phone calls to her. The defense objected and the judge granted the limited exclusion but failed to address the above ‘Waller’ factors. Defendant was convicted. Case remanded for additional findings on closure. State vs. McDaniel, A08-2261, Ct of Appeals, Feb 23, 2010.
AUTHORITY: U.S. Const. amend.VI; Minn. Const. art. I, sec. 6; Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984); State v. Mahkuk, 736 N.W.2d 675 (Minn. 2007); Minn. R. Crim. Proc. 26.03, subd. 6.