The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Monday held that the District Court for the Northern District of California’s COVID-19 protocols violated defendant James David Allen II’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. In 2020, the district court prohibited the public from attending Allen’s suppression hearing and trial “and rejected his request for video-streaming of the proceedings,” allowing only audio access.
Allen’s counsel originally argued at a hearing that neither audio nor video streaming of the trial was equivalent to an in-person trial.” However, Allen accepted “video as ‘an adequate substitute’ for public access because it ‘comes closer to recapturing that in-person experience more so than telephone.'”
The Ninth Circuit found that a defendant’s right to a public trial is “impaired by a rule that precludes the public from observing a trial in person, regardless whether the public has access to a transcript or audio stream.” The panel concluded that the district court’s order “effected a total closure because all persons other than witnesses, court personnel, the parties and their lawyers were excluded from attending the suppression hearing or trial.”
The Ninth Circuit concluded that the only appropriate remedy in Allen’s case is a new trial and new suppression hearing. As a result, Allen’s conviction was vacated and remanded.