Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Public Trials, Dammit!

The United States Supreme Court published a Per Curiam decision yesterday in Presley v. Georgia, reversing a Georgia trial court conviction for cocaine trafficking because the trial court prohibited the public from voir dire.  That's right folks, we the people have a right to watch our government do what our government does even really important stuff like picking a jury; seriously, Georgia, wtf?!

The Supreme Court per curiam (by the court--meaning the decision was by the whole court and not by a specifiic Justice) found the exclusion of the public violative of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  We talk about the Fourteenth Amendment (substantive and procedural due process, and equal protection) all the time on Bad Lawyer but, I don't know that we have been specific about the Sixth Amendment, it commands:  In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall hae been committed, which district shall have neen previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation;  to be confronted with the witnesses against him;  to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defen[s]e.

Pretty cool, huh? 

A trial as we discussed before, a trial begins with jury selection.  Why a Georgia trial court, and why the Georgia Supreme Court thought the Sixth Amendment was inapplicable to Mr. Presley is dumbfounding.  Oh, one U.S. Supreme Court Justice did write, it was a dissent, and it wasn't 'Nino (although he joined--as pointed out by Deraj,) you'll have to read the opinion for yourself to find out who--it's my way of making you look at the real thing.


  1. Yeah, it's who I guessed. Just figures.

  2. I'm sorry, but the last time I looked, the U.S. Constitution was in plain English. Amazing, that anyone could dissent from the demand of a public trial.

  3. I correctly guessed that the dissenter was Justice Thomas. But, Mr. Bad Lawyer, you are wrong, Nino did dissent, he just let Thomas write the dissent, which he joined.
    Also, Thomas' dissent is little more than a "don't pick on the Georgia judges" whine, rather than a reasoned dissent grounded in the law. A reasoned dissent would have argued that a jury trial does not commence until the jury is empaneled since that is when jeopardy attaches, therefore, voir dire is not part of the public trial requirement set forth in the 6th Amendment. But, then again, reason is not a strong point for either Justice Thomas or Justice Scalia.

  4. Deraj--

    Thank you for your clarification. Your comment is genuinely well-reasoned and insightful.