May 27, 2010
The Difference Between A Jailhouse And A Courthouse
A majority of the Supreme Court of Washington reversed a criminal conviction for second degree murder of a defendant tried in a jailhouse rather than courthouse. Defense counsel had strenuously objected to the venue. The court noted:
The difference between jailhouses and courthouses is evident even in their
architectural contrast. Courthouses are often monuments of public life, adorned
with architectural flourishes and historical exhibits that make them inviting to
members of the public. Many of our county courthouses are on historical registries
and are visited each year by school children, civic groups, and tourists. A jail, on
the other hand, is singularly utilitarian. Its purpose is to isolate from the public a
segment of the population whose actions have been judged grievous enough to
warrant confinement. Jail buildings are typically austere in character, and entrance
is subject to heightened security.
The majority's conclusion:
We erect courthouses for a reason. They are a stage for public discourse, a
neutral forum for the resolution of civil and criminal matters. The unique setting that
the courtroom provides "is itself an important element in the constitutional
conception of trial, contributing a dignity essential to 'the integrity of the trial'
process." Estes, 381 U.S. at 561 (Warren, C.J., concurring) (quoting Craig, 331
U.S. at 377). The use of a space other than a courthouse for a criminal trial,
particularly when that space is a jailhouse, takes a step away from those dignities.
We hold that the setting of Jaime's trial infringed upon his right to a fair and
impartial trial, and we remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
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