United States District Court, S.D. New York
THOMAS P. GRIESA, District Judge.
On March 10, 2009, a New York County jury found Troy Manning guilty of both possession and sale of cocaine and marijuana. The trial court sentenced Manning, as a second felony drug offender, to forty-two years in prison. The New York State Appellate Division, First Department subsequently reduced Manning's aggregate sentence to eighteen years, but otherwise affirmed his conviction.
Manning now petitions this court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, claiming that the trial court deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Specifically, Manning contends that the trial judge did not make sufficient factual findings to support a decision to close the courtroom during the testimony of an undercover police officer.
The court denies Manning's petition.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEEDINGS BELOW
The Illegal Transactions
Between July 4, 2007 and October 16, 2007, the New York Police Department ("NYPD") Manhattan North Narcotics Bureau conducted an investigation into cocaine and marijuana distribution at 141st Street, between Lenox Avenue and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. As part of the operation, an undercover narcotics detective ("UC-C0003") made multiple purchases of narcotics from Manning. These transactions ultimately led to trial on charges of selling and possessing cocaine and marijuana.
The State Trial and Appellate Proceedings
Prior to trial, the government moved for a limited closure of the courtroom during the testimony of the undercover officer. Manning opposed the government's request.
On March 4, 2009, the trial judge held a hearing pursuant to People v. Hinton, 31 N.Y.2d 71 (1972), to determine whether to close the courtroom during the testimony of the undercover officer. At the Hinton hearing, the undercover officer was the only witness to testify. The officer had worked undercover for 13 of his 15 years with the NYPD, and had worked undercover for the three years preceding the trial in an area near the courtroom in question. He explained that he continued to work undercover in New York City, and feared that if forced to testify publically, he would "blow [his] cover." 3/4/2009 Tr. at 6. He testified about the precautions he undertook to conceal his identity, and explained that certain investigations he conducted resulted in "los[t] subjects" or "unidentified suspects" where the alleged narcotics seller remained at large. Id. at 6-10.
After the officer finished testifying, the parties made arguments on the motion to the trial judge. In his argument, Manning's counsel put forth a general objection to the closure of the courtroom:
I can sum up real briefly. I'm going to rely on the record for the most part with respect to the interest raised and the purpose behind the two questions I asked or the rather few questions, the two categories of questions. The officer doesn't know if Mr. Manning has any contact at all to any of the people that he's ever dealt with on the street, therefore, it doesn't seem to be important or necessary to keep the courtroom closed in this particular case because there is no perceived connection between Mr. Manning or anybody else that this officer has dealt with that would put this officer in any kind of risk after he leaves here today so I would object to closing the courtroom.
Id. at 12-13.
After further argument from the government, the trial judge ruled from the bench that the courtroom would remain closed to the public during the testimony of the undercover officer. The trial judge found that, although the facts did not support a finding of a "specific threat" against the undercover officer, requiring the officer to testify openly could subject him to ...