Following a jury trial, James Allen was convicted on one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020, public access to the physical courtroom during both the hearing on Allen’s motion to suppress and his trial was closed, and people other than the parties and witnesses in the case were only able to access them at all via an audio stream.
Reviewing Allen’s claim de novo, the Ninth Circuit found that these court closures deprived Allen of his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. The district court’s order that the public should only have access to the proceedings through an audio stream was not narrowly tailored to address the challenges of the pandemic—a fact made more obvious given that other courts around the country were consistently able to provide video access. It has long been held that public access to a transcript of proceedings is no substitute for a truly public trial, and an audio stream is not substantially different.
Appeal from the Northern District of California
Opinion by Ikuta, joined by VanDyke and Lucero (by designation from the Tenth Circuit)
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