Thursday, October 12, 2006

Court affirms trial court's discretion in closing the courtroom during a child witness's testimony

Purvis v. Crosby
2006 WL 1525931 (C.A. 11 (Fla.))
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

After being convicted of capital sexual battery on a child under twelve in violation of Florida Statute §794.011 (2)(a); sexual activity with a child twelve years or older by a person in familial or custodial authority using digital penetration in violation of §794.011 (8)(b); and sexual activity with a child twelve years or older using penile union with her vagina, in violation of §794.011 (8)(b); the defendant argued on appeal that his due process rights were violated when the trial judge closed the courtroom to the public during part of the child victim’s testimony and that he was prejudiced by his attorney’s failure to object to the closure.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed reasoning as follows:

Closing of the courtroom is appropriate because “although a public trial is a fundamental, constitutional right, the State, in the instant case, was seeking to close the trial in a constitutionally valid manner pursuant to [Fla. Stat] § 987.16,” and “to the extent that there was any error in the trial process itself rather than a structural defect.” This court finds that the trial court ordered a partial closure due to the young age of the victim and the nature of the testimony. The victim’s aunt and uncle were permitted to stay in the courtroom although the record is silent on how many persons stayed in the courtroom or how many persons left the courtroom during the child’s testimony. The defendant’s rights were not violated as his attorney could have objected to the partial closure. However, the attorney’s failure to do so more than likely would not have changed the victim’s testimony in such a way as to create reasonable doubt within the minds of the jurors nor the outcome of the trial. The defendant likewise failed to establish how he was prejudiced by the partial closure or his attorney’s failure to object to the closure.