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A locked courtroom still deemed a public trial

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The Judicial Update

July 8th, 2012

Minnesota: It has been pondered in the state of Minnesota if a citizen has lost their right to a public trial when a judge decides to lock the courtroom doors.[1]

On July 5, 2012, the Minnesota Supreme Court made a ruling in the case of the 2010 trial of Jerrell Brown. Brown had been convicted of aiding and abetting first-degree murder for the benefit of the gang he belonged to, known as the Shotgun Crips. Brown was eventually convicted on all four counts of murder.[1]

When Jerrell Brown's trial had come to the closing arguments, the judge in the case made the decision to lock the courtroom doors as the jury were given their instructions. The judge did not order anyone inside to leave, and the trial was still open to the public and the press, in addition to Brown and his family not being denied the chance to witness the court proceedings.[1]

Justice Alan Page wrote, "Not all courtroom restrictions implicate a defendant's right to a public trial," but he also went on to warn the judges of Minnesota by saying that "the act of locking courtroom doors during jury instructions creates the appearance that Minnesota's courtrooms are closed or inaccessible to the public... the better practice is for the trial court to expressly state on the record why the court is locking the courtroom doors."[1]

Justice Helen Meyer criticized the judge of Jerrell Brown's trial, saying that the judge should have gone on to explain why the courtroom had been closed, and wrote "The act of locking the doors such that the public may not enter or exit for the duration of jury instructions certainly contravenes the 'presumption of openness' at the heart of the public trial guarantee."[1]

While it was ruled that one has not lost their right to a fair public trial when the courtroom doors have been locked, judges of the state have taken an awareness to make sure the reason for locking the doors is made clear.

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