Fair Trial Rights and Public Trial Principles Not Always Coextensive, Missouri Court of Appeals Observes

State v. Jones, ED104588 (Mo. App.) June 30, 2017.


Defendant, accused of sodomy of a minor, complained of violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a fair and public trial because the trial court removed onlookers from the courtroom during jury voir dire.

Both the Sixth and First Amendments are protective of public trials. Violations of public trial rights are structural, requiring no showing of prejudice.  However, the Supreme Court has held that not every violation of a public trial right renders a trial fundamentally unfair.  Weaver v. Massachusetts, 2017 WL 2674153 (June 22, 2017).

The factors to be considered in constraining public access to trials, over objection, are:  the likelihood that there would be prejudice to a public interest; the conformity of any closure to the interest to be protected; the alternatives to closure; and the findings articulated to support closure.  State v. Salazar, 414 S.W.3d 606 (Mo. App. 2013).

Where no objection to closure was raised at he time of the court’s extemporaneous closure of the courtroom, which was effectuated to protect rather than impair defendant’s fair trial rights, plain error cannot be found.

State v. Jones (Mo. App., 2017)