Petitioners Anthony Magana and Joseph Cosentino each were charged with the crimes of murder in the second degree, criminal use of a firearm in the first degree (two counts), criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (two counts), and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree (three counts). Both indictments charged that petitioners aided, abetted, and acted in concert with one another to accomplish the murder of John Petrucelli in White Plains, New York on September 13, 1989.
The first jury trial in this matter commenced on October 10, 1990 before the Honorable Donald Silverman, County Court, Westchester County. The jury completed deliberations on October 31, 1990, and informed the court that it had reached a verdict. Prior to bringing the jury into the courtroom, the court cautioned spectators to maintain control of themselves when the verdict was read. After the jury entered the courtroom, the court asked the jury what verdict it had reached with respect to the first count charging petitioner Magana with murder in the second degree. The jury foreperson responded, "Guilty, your Honor." At this point, a major disruption ensued involving family members and friends of petitioners, and certain spectators had to be removed from the courtroom. The jury foreperson then announced guilty verdicts for the remaining counts which were submitted for their consideration. The court then ordered a recess, and a court officer removed everyone from the courtroom.
The jury later re-entered the courtroom, at which time the court expressed its apologies for the earlier disruption. When the jury was polled, two of the jurors changed their verdicts, and a third juror was unsure. Another juror addressed the court stating, "The jury has completely fallen apart at this particular time, judge, because of what happened in this courtroom just now and that -- none of us, I think, can right now give anything a fair answer of any kind. I'm sorry." Trial Transcript, at 1724-1725 (Oct. 31, 1990).
After the jury was excused, both defense attorneys moved for a mistrial. The court stated, on the record, the essence of the disruption that had just occurred in the courtroom. Specifically, the court stated that "at the time the verdict was announced there was a great many members of the [petitioners'] family, friends here, I say 10 to 15 and not all of them but a good many of them just went absolutely off the wall yelling and screaming, several had to be physically restrained, taken out of the courtroom, we had quite a scene here. . . ." Trial Transcript, at 1725-1726 (Oct. 31, 1990).
The matter was then adjourned to the following morning.
The following morning, both defense attorneys renewed their motions for a mistrial, which were denied. A curative instruction was given to the jury, but, after several more hours of deliberations and several readbacks, the jury sent a note to the court advising it that they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Both defense attorneys again moved for a mistrial, and their motions were granted by the court.
On January 11, 1991, during a scheduled calendar call, the court informed the parties that petitioners' wives and petitioner Cosentino's son would be barred from the courtroom during the second trial due to their involvement in the courtroom disruption which occurred during the first trial in this matter. Transcript of Calendar Call Before Hon. Donald Silverman, at 5-7 (Jan. 11, 1991). Petitioners moved, pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, for an order prohibiting retrial of the matter on double jeopardy grounds; an order reversing the trial court's order barring four
family members from the courtroom during the re-trial of this matter; and to obtain certain discovery materials prepared by federal authorities. Petitioners' motion was denied.
After a second consolidated jury trial, petitioners each were convicted of the crimes of murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree (two counts). Pursuant to these convictions, on May 31, 1991, petitioners were sentenced to concurrent terms of imprisonment of twenty-five years to life for the crime of murder in the second degree and two and one-third to seven years for the crimes of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree (two counts).
Notices of appeal were filed and the appeal was perfected.
On appeal, petitioners argued that (1) the trial court's closure of the proceedings to their families deprived them of their constitutional right to a public trial; (2) the trial court improperly failed to make reasonable inquiry of each juror about petitioner Cosentino's involvement with organized crime; (3) the trial court should have ordered the Westchester County District Attorney to turn over to defense counsel all discovery materials prepared by federal authorities; and (4) petitioner Cosentino was denied a fair trial by the prejudicial statements in the prosecutor's summation. The judgments of the conviction were affirmed by decision and orders of the Appellate Division. People v. Magana, 198 A.D.2d 306, 603 N.Y.S.2d 772 (N.Y. App. Div. 1993); People v. Cosentino, 198 A.D.2d 294, 603 N.Y.S.2d 560 (N.Y. App. Div. 1993). Petitioners sought leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals. Petitioners' applications were denied. People v. Cosentino, 83 N.Y.2d 909, 614 N.Y.S.2d 391, 637 N.E.2d 282 (N.Y. 1994); People v. Magana, 82 N.Y.2d 927, 610 N.Y.S.2d 179, 632 N.E.2d 489 (N.Y. 1994). Petitioners then filed the instant application for habeas corpus, and this Court directed respondents to answer by November 27, 1995.
The Sixth Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees that a criminal defendant shall enjoy the right to a "public trial." U.S. Const. amend. VI; In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 266, 92 L. Ed. 682, 68 S. Ct. 499 (1948). This right assures the public that the defendant is dealt with fairly, protects against prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, encourages witnesses to come forward and discourages perjury. Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39, 46, 81 L. Ed. 2d 31, 104 S. Ct. 2210 (1984). It may also cause all trial participants to perform their duties more conscientiously and gives the public an opportunity to observe the judicial system. Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368, 383, 61 L. Ed. 2d 608, 99 S. Ct. 2898 (1979). The exclusion of courtroom observers, especially a defendant's family members and friends, even from part of a criminal trial, is not a step to be taken lightly. Guzman v. Scully, 80 F.3d 772, , 1996 WL 163034, at *5 (2d Cir. 1996). Moreover, it is well-settled that a defendant whose right to a public trial has been violated need not show that he suffered any prejudice, and the doctrine of harmless error does not apply. Waller, 467 U.S. at 49-50 & n.9; Guzman, 80 F.3d 772, 1996 WL 163034, at *5; Vidal v. Williams, 31 F.3d 67, 69 (2d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, U.S. , 130 L. Ed. 2d 672, 115 S. Ct. 778 (1995); Ip v. Henderson, 710 F. Supp. 915, 919 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd mem., 888 F.2d 1376 (2d Cir. 1989).
The right to a public trial is not absolute, however, and in some instances must yield to other interests, such as those essential to the administration of justice. Waller, 467 U.S. at 45. In Waller, the Supreme Court identified four requirements that must be met before public access to a criminal proceeding may be denied: " The party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced,  the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest,  the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the proceedings, and  it must make findings adequate to support the closure." Waller, 467 U.S. at 48; see Vidal, 31 F.3d at 69; Woods v. Kuhlmann, 977 F.2d 74, 76 (2d Cir. 1992). Where a court orders only partial closure, rather than complete closure, the first requirement -- an "overriding interest" in favor of closure -- is somewhat relaxed. In those situations, a "substantial reason," rather than an "overriding interest," satisfies the first criterion because "a partial closure does not implicate the same secrecy and fairness concerns that a total closure does." Woods, 977 F.2d at 76; see United States v. Doe, 63 F.3d 121, 129 (2d Cir. 1995).
I. Substantial Reason
Petitioners do not seriously dispute that prevention of a mistrial in a criminal case constitutes a "substantial reason" to order a partial closure. "The right to a public trial 'has always been interpreted as being subject to the trial judge's power to keep order in the courtroom. Were this not so a public trial might mean no trial at all at the option of the defendant and his sympathizers.'" United States v. Hernandez, 608 F.2d 741, 747 (9th Cir. 1979) (quoting United States ex rel. Orlando v. Fay, 350 F.2d 967, 971 (2d Cir. 1965), cert. denied, 384 U.S. 1008 (1966)). See United States v. Akers, 542 F.2d 770, 772 (9th Cir. 1976) (closure appropriate to avoid disorder), cert. denied sub nom. Wallace v. United States, 430 U.S. 908, 51 L. Ed. 2d 585, 97 S. Ct. 1181 (1977); Fay, 350 F.2d at 971 (closure appropriate to maintain order in the courtroom). Indeed, "when the trial judge has reason to believe that any persons or any groups of spectators are disorderly and may continue to do so he may exclude individuals or groups as the occasion requires." Fay, 350 F.2d at 971.
II. Narrowly Tailored
We turn to whether the partial closure was narrowly tailored to exclude spectators only to the degree necessary to satisfy the objective for which it was ordered. At a calendar call on January 11, 1991, the trial court discussed its decision to order a partial closing of the second trial as follows:
THE COURT: Now, as a result of the disturbance that we had in court last time, it is my intention to bar from the courtroom the wives of the defendants and the son of the defendant Cosentino, and I think you gentleman [sic] can understand why.