How do courts “kick out” the public?

Although those charged with crimes are guaranteed the right to a public trial under the 6th Amendment, sometimes courts “close down” the courtroom when receiving certain types of testimony.  This means the court “kicks out” members of the public to protect certain sensitive matters.  But what kinds of findings does a court need to make before closing down a courtroom?  This post will discuss the four requirements for kicking the public out and also some Florida exceptions to the rule.

Under the 6th Amendment, a Defendant is guaranteed the right to a public trial.  If that is true, then how do courts get away with closing down courtrooms (aka, kicking the public out) when certain types of testimony is offered? (You’ll see this frequently when a child sex victim is testifying.)

In Florida, a recent case highlighted the legal standard that must be shown before the presumption of openness can be overcome.

The 4 legal requirements

The US Supreme Court case of Waller (467 US at 48) sets out four requirements that must be shown before the Court can kick out the public.

1. The party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced;

2. Closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest;

3. Trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the proceedings; and

4. The court must make findings adequate to support the closure.

Exceptions

Keep in mind there may be certain statutory exemptions for closure as well, depending on a state-by-state basis.  Florida, for example, has a statute that allows a court to clear the courtroom for testimony of victims under the age of 16, or those that are mentally retarded, or of a victim of a sex offense.  The statute reads in full:

Section 918.16 Sex offenses; testimony of person under age 16 or person with mental retardation; testimony of victim; courtroom cleared; exceptions.—

1. Except as provided in subsection (2), in the trial of any case, civil or criminal, when any person under the age of 16 or any person with mental retardation as defined in s. 393.063 is testifying concerning any sex offense, the court shall clear the courtroom of all persons except parties to the cause and their immediate families or guardians, attorneys and their secretaries, officers of the court, jurors, newspaper reporters or broadcasters, court reporters, and, at the request of the victim, victim or witness advocates designated by the state attorney’s office.

2. When the victim of a sex offense is testifying concerning that offense in any civil or criminal trial, the court shall clear the courtroom of all persons upon the request of the victim, regardless of the victim’s age or mental capacity, except that parties to the cause and their immediate families or guardians, attorneys and their secretaries, officers of the court, jurors, newspaper reporters or broadcasters, court reporters, and, at the request of the victim, victim or witness advocates designated by the state attorney may remain in the courtroom.

 

The 6th Amendment right to a public trial is an important right, but one that is subject to a few exemptions as well.

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Disclaimer:  This post is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

~At Matthews Law Firm, P.A., we practice criminal defense & health law.  Our offices are in Bartow, Florida and we offer free consultations. We are currently taking cases throughout central Florida.~

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