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Name: People v. Molina (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 516
Case #: G061280
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 10/17/2023

Defendant forfeited his challenges to the COVID-19 safety protocols implemented at his trial by failing to object, and any objection to the protocols would have been meritless. A jury convicted Molina of felony offenses during the pandemic. On appeal he argued COVID-19 safety protocols implemented at trial deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial. In particular, he challenged the jurors’ use of face masks during voir dire, the trial court’s decision to allow certain jurors to continue to wear face masks and sit outside the jury box during trial even after the protocols were lifted, and the court’s initial requirement that Molina wear a face mask on the first morning of trial. Held: Affirmed. The Court of Appeal concluded Molina forfeited his challenges to the COVID-19 safety protocols by failing to object in the trial court. The court also concluded that trial counsel did not render ineffective assistance by failing to object to the masking or social distancing protocols because any objection to the protocols at issue here would have been meritless. California and federal courts have rejected constitutional challenges to the use of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic for defendants, testifying witnesses, and potential jurors during voir dire. [Editor’s Note: The court also disagreed with Molina’s argument that his attorney rendered ineffective assistance by asking the trial court to disclose to prospective jurors that he was in custody because he was unable to post bail. Molina failed to show he was prejudiced by counsel’s tactical decision.]