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People v. Hassen

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 29, 2015

the People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner:
v.
Omer Kelil Hassen, Respondent:

Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals Case No. 10CA1480.

Judgment Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

At Respondent's trial, the trial court completely closed the courtroom during the testimony of two undercover officers. The supreme court granted certiorari to consider whether this closure constituted structural error. The supreme court holds that the closure violated Respondent's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. In so doing, the supreme court rejects the People's argument that the closure was so trivial that it did not implicate Respondent's Sixth Amendment right. Accordingly, the supreme court affirms the judgment of the court of appeals.

For Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Erin K. Grundy, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

For Respondent: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Michael C. Mattis, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 419

RICE, CHIEF JUSTICE

[¶1] At the trial of Respondent Omer Kelil Hassen, the trial court completely closed the courtroom during the testimony of two undercover officers. We granted certiorari to consider whether this closure constituted structural error.[1] We hold that the closure violated Hassen's Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. In so doing, we reject the People's argument that the closure was so trivial that it did not implicate Hassen's Sixth Amendment right. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

Page 420

I. Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] The People charged Hassen with possession of a schedule II controlled substance--second offense; possession with intent to distribute a schedule II controlled substance--second offense; and three habitual counts. On the second day of trial, the People intended to call Officer S.P. Before doing so, the prosecutor requested that the trial court close the courtroom because spectators might recognize Officer S.P., who was working undercover at the time. The trial court granted the request over Hassen's objection, and it evicted the entire public from the courtroom, including members of Hassen's family. Hassen then requested a limiting instruction, and the trial court informed the jury that it should not view Officer S.P. differently from any other witness.

[¶3] Later that morning, the prosecution made the same request for a second undercover witness, Officer E.W. The trial court again closed the courtroom entirely (Hassen renewed his objection), and it issued a limiting instruction. The jury ultimately acquitted ...


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