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Name: People v. Baldwin
Case #: C051402
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 09/15/2006

Appellant was convicted of a number of sex offenses against a girl who was 14 years old at the time of trial. At the prosecution’s request, and over defendant’s objection, the trial court closed the courtroom to the public during the alleged victim’s testimony on the basis of the prosecutor’s assertion that the victim would have difficulty testifying. The court did not hold an evidentiary hearing or make any findings with respect to the request; it simply stated: “The law is clear that when a child under the age … of 16 is testifying about such matters [i.e., of alleged child molestation], the courtroom may be closed upon their request.” On appeal, appellant argued that the trial court’s order closing the trial to the public violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. (See Waller v. Georgia (1984) 467 U.S. 39, 45.) The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed. The court held that the trial court had erred in closing the trial without holding a hearing or making any of the findings showing that there was an “overriding interest that was likely to be prejudiced” that outweighed appellant’s constitutional right to a public trial. The Court of Appeal also noted that the trial court had failed to comply with the requirements of Penal Code section 859.1, in closing the trial to the public during the victim’s testimony. Since the error was structural, reversal was required.