Disagreement Resolved: Unpreserved Public Trial Violation Does Not Require Automatic Reversal of a Criminal Conviction

by Bethany Stevens

Case Focus

The Supreme Court’s decision in Weaver v. Massachusetts, (16-240, June 22, 2017), did not resolve the broad disagreement for which it granted certiorari—whether a criminal defendant must demonstrate prejudice when a structural error is not preserved at trial. The Court, however, did resolve the disagreement in the context of trial counsel’s failure to object to the closure of the courtroom in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Still, while the ultimate focus of Weaver is narrow, the resolution of this limited issue is very important in Massachusetts. This is because it was a fairly common practice by court officers, prior to 2007, to close courtrooms to the public due to space constraints during jury selection in criminal trials. As such, the finality of numerous Massachusetts convictions hinged on the Supreme Court’s decision.