Public was not barred from man’s trial, COA rules

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A man who argued the public was barred from his trial was denied an appeal of his drug-related convictions Thursday after an appellate panel confirmed that his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was not violated.

While standing trial in Delaware Circuit Court on numerous charges of drug-dealing and maintaining a common nuisance, Haile Long was informed by the trial court that a sign had been placed on the back door of the court room “asking people not to enter and exit in the middle of testimony.” The court explained that had been an issue the day before and “was very distracting.”

The same issue occurred during witness testimony in Long’s case, to which the trial court again requested individuals entering the courtroom stay inside or wait until a break to come or go. By the start of closing arguments, an officer was placed at the door to the courtroom. The court then stated, “[i]f you’re in here when closings start, fine. You’re staying until they are over. If you’re not in here when closings start, you’re not coming in to listen to closings, okay.”

A jury ultimately found Long guilty on all eight of counts, and the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate 26½ years.

Although Long never objected or voiced concerns about trial court’s statements, he appealed that the trial court’s asking the public not to enter and exit the courtroom in the middle of testimony equated to a total exclusion of members of the public.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions in Haile S. Long v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2140, finding his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was not violated.

“No one was ever removed from the courtroom or prevented from entering. Indeed, the record reveals that members of the public came into the courtroom when the sign was on the door,” Judge Rudolph Pyle III wrote for the court. “Because the trial court did not engage in ‘an affirmative act specifically barring some or all members of the public[,]’ nor did it physically prevent members of the public from attending, we hold that the trial did not exclude any members of the public.”

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