The Colorado Supreme Court heard its first oral arguments of 2020 last week. They included a couple of criminal cases that took up Sixth Amendment questions as well as a pair of zoning disputes over a proposed mountain coaster development in Larimer County.
On Jan. 14, the court heard arguments in two cases dealing with questions about what constitutes a public trial: People v. Lujan and People v. Jones.
In People v. Lujan, the court will consider whether a brief courtroom closure to re-read a previously given jury instruction violated the defendant’s right to a public trial. Also at issue in the case is whether a remand is an appropriate remedy when a trial court fails to make findings consistent with Waller v. Georgia.
Lujan was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend in 2015, but the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction in 2018 after it concluded a closure to read jury instructions during his trial had violated his right to a public trial.
On Tuesday, attorneys for the state argued that the brief closure during Lujan’s trial didn’t violate the Sixth Amendment because the closure was trivial and didn’t deprive the defendant of any of the guarantees of the right to a public trial, such as ensuring a fair trial, encouraging witnesses to
come forward and discouraging perjury. Lujan’s attorney responded that the closure was not “trivial” and argued that the Court of Appeals was correct to reverse the case for a new trial, rather than remand as the People had requested.
The second case, People v. Jones, raises the question of whether exclusion of the defendant’s parents for cause constituted a “closure” under the Sixth Amendment if the courtroom remained open to the general public for the entire trial.