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Law School Case Brief

Weaver v. Massachusetts - 137 S. Ct. 1899 (2017)

Rule:

Not every public-trial violation will in fact lead to a fundamentally unfair trial. Nor can it be said that the failure to object to a public-trial violation always deprives the defendant of a reasonable probability of a different outcome. Thus, when a defendant raises a public-trial violation via an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, Strickland prejudice is not shown automatically. Instead, the burden is on the defendant to show either a reasonable probability of a different outcome in his or her case or to show that the particular public-trial violation was so serious as to render his or her trial fundamentally unfair.

Facts:

When defendant was tried in a Massachusetts trial court, the courtroom could not accommodate all the potential jurors. As a result, for two days of jury selection, an officer of the court excluded from the courtroom any member of the public who was not a potential juror, including defendant's mother and her minister. Defense counsel neither objected to the closure at trial nor raised the issue on direct review. Denfendant was convicted of murder and a related charge. Five years later, he filed a motion for a new trial in state court, arguing, inter alia, that his attorney had provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the courtroom closure. The trial court ruled that he was not entitled to relief. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in relevant part. Although it recognized that the violation of the right to public trial was a structural error, it rejected defendant's ineffective-assistance claim because he had not shown prejudice.

Issue:

Was the defendant entitled to new trial based on ineffectiveness of counsel?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

Because defendant had neither shown a reasonable probability of a different outcome but for counsel’s failure to object to the closure of the court nor that counsel’s shortcomings led to a fundamentally unfair trial, he was not entitled to a new trial.

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