Not what you're
looking for? Try an advanced search.
Buy This Entire Record For
MASON v. SCHRIVER
July 7, 1998
GRANVILLE MASON, Petitioner, against SUNNY SCHRIVER, Superintendent, Wallkill Correctional Facility, Respondent.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRESKA
LORETTA A. PRESKA, U.S.D.J.
Granville Mason petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, based upon the closure of the courtroom during his trial for the testimony of the undercover officers responsible for his arrest. On March 11, 1997, the Honorable Andrew J. Peck, United States Magistrate Judge, issued a report and recommendation (the "Report") recommending that the petition be granted. The State objected to the Report on April 11, 1997. Because the Report relied upon decisions which ultimately culminated in the Court of Appeals' en banc decision in Ayala v. Speckard, 131 F.3d 62 (2d Cir. 1997), pet. for cert. filed, No. 97-8962 (March 3, 1998), I reserved decision on the petition pending the Court of Appeals' resolution of that case.
I have reviewed the Report de novo pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). For the reasons discussed below I adopt the Report in part and grant Mr. Mason's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
Mason was arrested in 1992 for selling three vials of crack cocaine to undercover Detective Carey Billingly, in a drug sale that was observed by undercover Police Office Linda Eaton-Lewis. Before trial, the People moved to close the courtroom for the testimony of the two undercover officers, and the court conducted a Hinton hearing to determine whether closure was justified. Because the Hinton proceedings lie at the center of this case, the Report's summary of that portion of the case are set forth below:
Detective Billingly entered the courthouse for the Hinton Hearing through the judges' entrance and waited to testify in a non-public area. (H. 17-18.)
Detective Billingly testified at the Hinton hearing that during his three years as an undercover detective, he participated in 450-500 narcotics purchases, confined to the Manhattan North Region, i.e., from 59th Street to the northern end of Manhattan. (H. 13, 16.) Detective Billingly testified that he remained involved in long[-]term narcotics operations and that, because some subjects had not yet been arrested, he planned to continue purchasing narcotics in those cases. (H. 14). Detective Billingly testified that there were "lost subjects" from his undercover buys -- that is, suspects who were not arrested. (H. 15.) According to Detective Billingly, testifying in an open courtroom would "hinder [his] job, and [his] life would be in danger. (H. 15.) Billingly had previously been threatened with "bodily harm and death," and in 1990, he had been forced to inhale drugs. (H. 15.) Detective Billingly's identity as an undercover officer is not public knowledge, and he "would not feel comfortable" testifying in an open courtroom. (H. 16.)
Police Officer Linda Eaton-Lewis testified at the Hinton hearing that during her six months as an undercover officer, she participated in at least 200 narcotics purchases in New York County. (H. 19). Like Detective Billingly, Officer Eaton-Lewis testified that her identity as an undercover officer was not public knowledge, she had been verbally threatened in the part, and she would be unable to testify in a non-inhibited manner if the courtroom were open during her testimony. (H. 20-21). She felt that testifying in an open courtroom would jeopardize her safety "because the defendants can have people come into the courtroom and find out who" she is, and she "fear[s] for [her] safety." (H. 20-21.)
At the conclusion of the very brief Hinton hearing -- the combined testimony of Detective Billingly and Officer Eaton-Lewis took only ten pages (H. 13-22) -- defense counsel objected to closure of the courtroom. (H. 24.) Defense counsel pointed out that all of the undercovers' buys occur above 59th Street (H. 24), and, of course, the courthouse was well below 59th Street.
Report at 3-5. For their part, the People argued that closure was appropriate and cited four cases which allegedly supported their position. The trial court then granted the People's motion to close the courtroom, stating only:
The application is granted as to each witness, and the courtroom will be closed during their testimony.
I find the People have met their burden of showing that closure is justified in this case and the cases cited by [the Assistant District Attorney], in my view, are good authority.
(H. 24-25). As explained below, the trial judge's disposition of the People's motion violated Mason's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, and as a ...
Buy This Entire Record For