CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

New Case: Public Access to Plea and Sentencing Proceedings

The Second Circuit held yesterday in U.S. v. Alcantara that before a district court may close a plea or sentencing proceeding to the public, it must make factual findings on the record supporting the need for exclusion, and provide notice to the public.  The court also noted that holding a plea proceeding in a judge's robing room violates Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, and that conducting a sentencing proceeding in a robing room violates 18 U.S.C. § 3553(c)The court summarized its holding as follows:

The public and press have a qualified First Amendment right of access to plea and sentencing proceedings. United States v. Haller, 837 F.2d 84, 86-87 (2d Cir.1998); In re Washington Post Co., 807 F.2d 383, 389 (4th Cir.1986). Therefore, "[t]he power to close a courtroom where proceedings are being conducted during the course of a criminal prosecution ... is one to be very seldom exercised, and even then only with the greatest caution, under urgent circumstances, and for very clear and apparent reasons." United States v. Cojab, 996 F.2d 1404, 1405 (2d Cir.1993). Before excluding the public from such proceedings, district courts must make findings on the record demonstrating the need for the exclusion. Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 13-14 (1986); Haller, 837 F.2d at 87. In addition, two decades ago, we established procedures for providing notice to the public that must be followed before closing a proceeding to which a First Amendment right of access attaches. To ensure that members of the public have notice that a motion to close the courtroom has been made, and have an opportunity to challenge the closure, a closure motion--whether made by a party or by the court sua sponte-- must be docketed in the public docket files maintained in the court clerk's office. See In re The Herald Co., 734 F.2d 93, 102-03 (2d Cir.1984).

Here, the District Court apparently decided sua sponte to conduct Goiry's sentencing and Munoz's plea proceeding in the robing room, and did not provide notice to the public of its intention to close the proceedings as is required by Herald. In neither case did the court make findings on the record demonstrating the need for closure. There is no indication in the record of either case that there were circumstances present that would warrant closed proceedings. The public and press have a right to trust that the rules and procedures we have established will be followed. Therefore, in the exercise of our supervisory powers, we remand both cases to the District Court for further proceedings to be held in the public courtroom.

W e also conclude that conducting Munoz's plea proceeding in the robing room violated Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, which requires that such proceedings be conducted in "open court," and that conducting Goiry's sentencing in the robing room violated 18 U.S.C. § 3553(c), which requires that the District Court state in "open court" its reasons for imposing the sentence. Although we need not reach those issues because we are remanding both cases under our supervisory powers, we believe Rule 11 and § 3553(c)'s were clearly violated and thus address the issues to provide guidance to district courts. 
[Mark Godsey]

Criminal Law | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New Case: Public Access to Plea and Sentencing Proceedings:


Post a comment