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Law School Case Brief

People v. Frutos - 158 Cal. App. 3d 979, 205 Cal. Rptr. 204 (1984)

Rule:

Under normal conditions, a public trial is one which is open to the general public at all times. This right of attendance may be curtailed under special circumstances without infringement of the constitutional right but it cannot be denied altogether nor can it be restricted except in cases of necessity.

Facts:

Defendant Raymond Frutos was convicted in California state court of first-degree murder with firearm use enhancements. The evidence introduced against him included the hearsay statements of an accomplice which were admitted as declarations against penal interest. A prison cellmate testified that the accomplice had stated to him that he had participated in the murder by providing weapons and by driving himself and two others to the scene of the killing. The other evidence against Frutos also included the testimony of his uncle who testified that Frutos had a conversation with him in which Frutos acknowledged that he had killed the victim. The court excluded Frutos' family members from the courtroom during the testimony of Frutos' uncle.

Issue:

Did the removal of the family members during the uncle's testimony violate Frutos' constitutional right to a public trial?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The state appellate court held that the statement was corroborative evidence on the issue of whether the crime happened in a certain manner. In excluding family members from the courtroom during the uncle's testimony, the trial court implicitly found that his state of mind was such that he would be unable to testify freely in their presence and was thus the exclusion was not erroneous. Any prosecution misconduct in closing argument was cured by Frutos' requested jury instruction. The judgment was affirmed.

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