NM Supreme Court holds that closure of courtroom to protect cooperating witnesses violated 6th Amendment Public Trial Clause

The Sixth Amendment provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a . . . public trial.”

The Albuquerque Journal has this report about a decision the Supreme Court issued on Friday, State v. Turrietta, written by Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes. The defendant was accused, and convicted, of second-degree murder and other offenses arising from an alleged gang-related shooting.

The Court held that the partial closure of the courtroom during the testimony of two gang members who were cooperating with the State did not satisfy the standard in Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984) which requires the State to prove that (1) closure “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 trial court “must consider reasonable alternatives” to closure; and (4) the trial court “must make findings adequate to support the closure.” A new trial has now been ordered.

Congratulations to Bruce Rogoff and his crew of UNM Law School students who obtained this win for their client.

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