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State v. Jenkins - 115 N.C. App. 520, 445 S.E.2d 622 (1994)

Rule:

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15-166 (1983) provides that the trial court may exclude from the courtroom all persons except officers of the court, the defendant, and those engaged in the trial during the testimony of the prosecutrix. In clearing the courtroom, the trial court must determine if the party seeking closure has advanced an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced, order closure no broader than necessary to protect that interest, consider reasonable alternatives to closing the procedure, and make findings adequate to support the closure. 

Facts:

Defendant Randall Jenkins was charged in North Carolina state court with first degree rape and second degree kidnapping. Jenkins contended that he and the complainant had an ongoing relationship and that the incident upon which the charge was based was consensual bondage and sexual intercourse. A jury convicted Jenkins and the trial court entered judgment and imposed sentence. Jenkins appealed.

Issue:

Did the trial court commit errors of sufficient prejudice to require a new trial for Jenkins?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court ordered a new trial. The court found that the trial court committed two errors of sufficient prejudice to require a new trial. First, the court held that the trial court improperly expressed an opinion in the presence of the jury, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1222 (1988), when the trial judge turned his back to the jury for 45 minutes during Jenkins' testimony on direct examination. From that, the jury could have reasonably inferred that the trial judge did not believe Jenkins' testimony to be credible. Next, the court held that the trial court erred in granting the State's motion to clear the courtroom during the complainant's testimony. The trial court failed to make the findings of fact required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15-166 (1983) to support the closure.

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