The trial judge cannot bar the public or family members or friends from criminal jury trials during jury selections, and if so, calls for automatic reversal.
The New Jersey appellate division has held repeatedly that barring the public from the court room, even during jury selections is impermissible and calls for an automatic reversal in the event of a conviction. In numerous occasions, criminal convictions have been reversed when this happens. State v. Cuccio, State v. Clark Simon, (which was a case which I tried and was reversed for this reason by the appellate division) to name a few.
Rule 1:8-3(g) provides that the trial judge must allow the public access to the court room during all stages of the proceedings. The rule provides in pertinent part:
(g) Jury Selection Must be Conducted in Open Court. Subject to (1) and (2) below, the public must be provided reasonable access to the courtroom during the jury selection portion of the trial. (1) Exclusion of Public from Courtroom; Compelling Reasons; Alternatives. The trial judge may not exclude the public from the courtroom unless there is a compelling need to do so. In making that determination, the trial judge shall first consider reasonable alternatives, such as holding jury selection in a larger courtroom, if one is available. If there are compelling reasons to exclude the public from the courtroom, the judge shall consider alternative ways to permit observation, including electronic means. The trial judge shall issue a statement of reasons for limiting or denying public access to jury selection. (2) Voir Dire of Individual Jurors. The requirement of public access.
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