Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 09/17/2021
E.g., 09/17/2021

The Sixth Amendment right to a public trial extends to the voir dire of prospective jurors. Trial courts are required to consider alternatives to closure even when they are not offered by the parties.

In a child sexual abuse case, the trial court did not violate the defendant’s right to a public trial by closing the courtroom for part of the victim’s testimony. The trial court made the requisite inquiries under Waller and made appropriate findings of fact supporting closure.

On appeal after a remand for the trial court to conduct a hearing and make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding a closure of the courtroom during testimony by a child sexual abuse victim, the court held that the closure of the courtroom was proper and that the defendant’s constitutional right to a public trial was not violated.

In a sexual exploitation of a minor case, the trial court did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to a public trial by closing the courtroom during the presentation of the sexual images at issue. 

The trial court did not err on remand when it conducted a retrospective hearing to determine whether closure of the courtroom during the victim’s testimony was proper under Waller v. Georgia and decided that question in the affirmative. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial court’s findings of fact had to be based solely on evidence presented prior to the State’s motion for closure; it also determined that the evidence supported the trial court’s factual findings.

The trial court did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to a public trial under Waller v. Georgia by closing the courtroom during a sexual abuse victim’s testimony where the State advanced an overriding interest that was likely to be prejudiced; the closure of the courtroom was no broader than necessary to protect the overriding interest; the trial court considered reasonable alternatives to closing the courtroom; and the trial court made findings adequate to support the closure.

The trial court violated the defendant’s right to a public trial by temporarily closing the courtroom while the victim testified concerning an alleged rape perpetrated by defendant without engaging in the four-part test set forth in Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984). The court held that while the trial court need not make exhaustive findings of fact, it must make findings sufficient for the appellate court to review the propriety of the trial court’s decision to close the proceedings. The court cautioned trial courts to avoid making “broad and general” findings that impede appellate review. The court remanded for a hearing on the propriety of the closure:

The trial court must engage in the four-part Waller test and make the appropriate findings of fact regarding the necessity of closure during [the victim’s] testimony in an order. If the trial court determines that the trial should not have been closed during [the victim’s] testimony, then defendant is entitled to a new trial. If the trial court determines that the trial was properly closed during [the victim’s] testimony on remand, then defendant may seek review of the trial court’s order by means of an appeal . . . . 

In a child sexual abuse case, the trial court did not err by excluding spectators from the courtroom during the victim’s testimony. The court excluded all spectators except the victim’s mother and stepfather, investigators for each side, and a high school class. Because the defendant did not argue that he was denied a public trial, the requirements of Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984), do not apply. The defendant waived any constitutional issues by failing to raise them at trial. The trial court’s action was permissible under G.S. 15-166 (in sexual assault cases the trial judge may, during the victim’s testimony, exclude from the courtroom everyone except the officers of the court, the defendant, and those engaged in the trial of the case). Furthermore, the court noted, G.S. 15A-1034(a) gives the trial court authority to restrict access to the courtroom to ensure orderliness in the proceedings. The State was concerned about the child victim being confronted with “a hostile environment with [defendant's] family sitting behind him;” the trial court was concerned about the potential for outbursts or inappropriate reactions by supporters of both the defendant and the victim. Although it was unusual to allow the high school class to stay, this decision was not unreasonable given that the issue was reactions by family members.

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