Defendant’s right to a public trial was violated when the trial court excluded his family members from voir dire.
In his trial for Conspiracy, Attempted Homicide and other related crimes, the Defendant, Dante Jordan, alleged that his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated when the court closed the courtroom during voir dire.
Specifically, he argued the court erred in excluding his mother and stepfather from the proceedings, after a disturbance occurred the day earlier that caused the trial court to conclude that further, similar, conduct “was a threat to the orderly administration of justice in [the] courtroom by an unmanageable public” therefore allowing for the placement of “reasonable restrictions on access to the courtroom, so long as the basic guarantees of fairness are preserved.”
After review, the Superior Court held that “the trial court was justified in excluding general members of the public from voir dire due to intimidation concerns. However, the court erred by refusing to consider the proffered reasonable alternative of permitting entry to Jordan’s family members.”
The Superior Court noted that the trial judge “could exclude Jordan’s mother and stepfather had they participated in the disturbance, presuming that appropriate findings supporting that conclusion were made.” However, no such findings were made and “the trial court did not challenge Jordan’s representation that his mother and stepfather, the only people Jordan sought to admit, were not part of the disturbance.”
As to the appropriate remedy to be applied, the Superior Court noted that a “violation of the right to a public trial constitutes a structural defect, a specific type of constitutional error warranting a new trial without any showing of prejudice.”
And, because in this case, “Jordan’s family members were excluded from jury selection after a request was made that they be allowed to attend and no reason was given by trial court for their exclusion, the trial court committed a “structural error warranting a new trial without any finding of prejudice.”
Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that Jordan’s “right to a public trial was violated when the trial court excluded his family members from voir dire.”
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA V. JORDAN, No. 545 EDA 2017 (Pa. Super. May 29, 2019)
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