August 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Committed Structural Error by Excluding Underage Spectators from Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of G.B. on Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Juvenile Delinquency—Sufficiency of the Evidence—Sexual Assault—Right to a Public Trial.

In this juvenile delinquency proceeding, a jury convicted 16-year-old G.B. of offenses that would, if committed by an adult, constitute felony sexual assault against the 15-year-old victim. The trial court adjudicated G.B. delinquent and sentenced him to the custody of the Division of Youth Corrections.

On appeal, G.B. challenged the sufficiency of the evidence that he knew the victim was incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct. However, the record evidence, including testimony about the victim’s drug and alcohol use and her testimony that she wasn’t able to move on her own and didn’t remember certain events from the night in question until she had nightmares and flashbacks months later, was sufficient to support a conclusion by a reasonable jury that G.B. knew the victim was incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct.

G.B. also contended that the trial court violated his right to a public trial by excluding, over his objection, all spectators during his cross-examination of the sexual assault nurse examiner, and by excluding all spectators under 18 from a significant portion of the trial. The trial court’s closure of the courtroom to all spectators under 18 was broader than necessary to achieve the trial court’s legitimate interest in protecting young children from exposure to age-inappropriate evidence. Further, the trial court failed to consider reasonable alternatives when it closed the courtroom to all spectators under 18. The trial court committed structural error by excluding from two days of trial all spectators under 18.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.