Covid-19 Courtroom Restrictions and the Sixth Amendment

Jury Trials and Covid-19

U.S. appeals court rules that COVID restrictions violated a defendant’s Sixth
Amendment right to a public trial:

Federal court’s Covid protocols barring spectators from watching a man’s trial, violated his right to a public trial, an appeals court in San Francisco ruled in overturning his conviction.
The courtroom was closed to the public during the trial of James David Allen II, because of pandemic restrictions. Instead, spectators were allowed to follow the proceedings on an audio livestream.

In the appeals court ruling, Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote that the District Court did not prove that it “would imperil public health” to have a few spectators in the courtroom or watching a video feed in another room. “The District Court here failed to strike the appropriate balance”, she wrote.

On Monday, May 16th, a three-judge panel from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that, by blocking the public from “visual access” to the courtroom, the District Court had violated Mr. Allen’s right to a public trial. The appeals court vacated Mr. Allen’s conviction and sent the case back to the District Court.

It is unclear what potential consequences the appeals court’s ruling could have on other cases held under similar COVID-19-related restrictions, or even how many such trials there have been. If you or a loved one have been personally impacted, please contact our offices today.