Published on:

Arizona Court Reverses Convictions in Case Centering on Defendant’s Right to a Public Trial

In a recent opinion issued by the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two, the court overturned a defendant’s convictions for sexual conduct with a minor and indecent exposure to a minor. The opinion highlights the fact that trial courts must make a careful decision when one party requests to close the courtroom during trial. In this case, the State asked to keep nonessential people outside of the courtroom while the victim in the case testified. On appeal, the defendant argued that this decision to close the courtroom was unconstitutional, and ultimately, the higher court agreed.

Proceedings Before the Lower Court

The defendant was originally criminally charged after the victim, the daughter of his girlfriend, came forward and indicated that he had been sexually assaulting her for several years. According to the victim, the defendant was in charge of looking after her while her mother worked overtime, and it was during these instances that he would force her to have sex with him.

The defendant’s case went to trial, and the victim took the stand to testify. Court records indicate that the girl was 16 at the time of trial and that she was very nervous about testifying. A few minutes into her testimony, the State asked the trial court judge if he would close the courtroom and tell all “nonessential” individuals to leave the proceedings. The defense objected, but the trial judge decided to close the courtroom in order to give the victim some privacy.

A jury ultimately found the defendant guilty. He promptly appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court failed to protect his right to a public trial. Both the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution guarantee this right to a public trial. Defendants are entitled to have members of the public present for their proceedings, which helps guarantee accountability and fairness as each side litigates their case. Here, the State asked for a closed courtroom in order to protect the testifying victim. Without going into depth on its reasoning, the trial court quickly granted this request.

The higher court concluded that it was not sufficient for the lower court to simply remove “nonessential” individuals from the courtroom at the State’s request. Instead, the trial court should have gone into detail about why it felt closing the courtroom was necessary to protect the victim’s privacy. The State bore the burden of proving that the closure was necessary, which the trial court never asked it to do.

Because the right to a public trial is enshrined in the constitution, and because the trial court did not provide any reasons for its decision, the trial court violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. Therefore, the entire proceedings would be vacated, and the defendant’s convictions would be overturned pending a new trial.

Are You on the Lookout for a Phoenix Sex Crimes Attorney?

At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we make your priorities our priorities, and we make your acquittal our number one goal. If you are facing criminal charges in Arizona, there is no better choice for your representation. For a free and confidential consultation with a qualified, experienced Phoenix sex crimes attorney, call our office today at 480-413-1499. You can also fill out our online form to have a member of our team get back in touch with you as soon as possible.

Contact Information