In a recent decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed a superior court judge’s decision that the closure of the courtroom for the general questioning of the venire violated a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.
In Commonwealth v. Timothy White, the defendant, a former state police sergeant, had allegedly stole drugs from the state police evidence room and sold them for profit. The defendant was charged with trafficking in cocaine, larceny over $250, and conspiracy to traffick in cocaine. Due to the media attention the case attracted, the defendant’s counsel requested individual voir dire of prospective jurors. Unbeknownst to the defendant or the judge, the courtroom was closed to the public for the first phase of the juror selection process, based upon the courtroom lacking sufficient space to seat all members of the venire.