United States v. Rivera

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 06-22-2012
  • Case #: 10-50426
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; District Judge Kennelly and Circuit Judge Reinhardt
  • Full Text Opinion

When a district court excludes a criminal defendant's family members from the sentencing proceeding, the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial is violated because (1) the right to a "public trial" applies to sentencing proceedings, and (2) the district court’s belief that the family members’ presence is "manipulative" is not a "substantial reason" warranting their exclusion.

David Rivera, who was convicted of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, wanted his wife and young child present at his sentencing proceeding. The district court judge excluded Rivera’s family members from the sentencing proceeding because the judge perceived that Rivera was using his child as a manipulative “prop.” On appeal, Rivera argued that the exclusion of his family members violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The Ninth Circuit determined that the right to a public trial applies to sentencing proceedings because the “subject matter involve[s] the values that the right to a public trial serves.” Those values are: “ensuring fair proceedings; reminding the prosecutor and judge of their grave responsibilities; discouraging perjury; and encouraging witnesses to come forward.” Based on these values and the importance of the subject matter discussed at the sentencing proceeding, the Court concluded that the exclusion of Rivera’s family members from the sentencing proceeding was not trivial and implicated Rivera’s Sixth Amendment right. Additionally, Rivera did not waive his right to a public trial by failing to object to the district court’s exclusion of his family members. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 51, it is sufficient that Rivera requested to have his family members present and argued in favor of it. Further, the district court’s interpretation of Rivera’s use of his child as “manipulative” was not a “substantial reason” warranting exclusion of Rivera’s family members from the sentencing proceeding. Upon remand, the Ninth Circuit assigned Rivera’s case to a different judge “to preserve the appearance of justice,” with orders to allow Rivera’s family members to appear at the new sentencing proceeding. VACATED and REMANDED.

Advanced Search