United States v. Yazzie

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 02-27-2014
  • Case #: 12-10165; 12-10326
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Ikuta for the Court; Circuit Judges Farris and Fernandez
  • Full Text Opinion

A defendant's Sixth Amendment rights are not violated when child victims of sexual abuse are permitted to testify in a closed court and without the jury if the court has first determined that it would be detrimental to the victims to testify before an open court.

Appellants Timothy Yazzie and Shonnie Shidale George were both convicted of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor. Both appealed, claiming that their trials had violated their Sixth Amendment rights. Each court granted the prosecutions' motions, holding that the victims were too young (George's victims were 8, 6, 5 and 4, and Yazzie's victim was 14) to avoid intimidating the children and ensure that their testimony was not impacted by having an audience. Although the Sixth Amendment allows for a public trial, 18 U.S.C. § 3509(e) allows the exclusion of "all persons, including members of the press, who do not have a direct interest in the case" during a child's testimony. At that time, Appellants objected to the prosecution's motion to close the courtroom, arguing that it created undue prejudice against them. The court made accommodations to take the children's testimony during the jury's break, noting a concern for psychological harm to the children. The Ninth Circuit applied the four factors in Waller v. Georgia and held that the court was reasonable in its conclusion that testifying in open court could harm the victims and thus was allowed under 18 U.S.C. § 3509. The court also rejected Yazzie's argument that his family should have been allowed to sit in for the testimony because they had a direct interest in the outcome of his case. The panel held that although the family members had an interest in the case, their interest was not direct in the way that Yazzie's interest was. Finally, the panel rejected Yazzie's argument that his second and third charges violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. AFFIRMED.

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