Verdict by mail violates public trial rights
NEW YORK–In late September, a federal appeals court in Manhattan (2d Cir.) held that a criminal defendant’s right to a public trial and to be present at all stages of his trial was violated when the district court mailed its decision to the parties rather than reconvening the proceedings to announce its verdict in open court.
Noting the “traditional Anglo-American distrust for secret trials,” the unanimous appellate panel relied in part on press access cases stating that the right to a public trial is a shared right of the accused and the public, “the common concern being the assurance of fairness.”
The court held that by mailing its verdict rather than announcing it in open court, the district court undercut “the legitimacy of the criminal justice process.”
The issue arose when the defendant, Marcus Canady, filed a habeas corpus petition in 1996 challenging his February 1994 conviction on illegal drug and weapons possession charges. Canady had waived his right to a jury trial, and was tried before Chief Judge David Larimer in January 1994 in federal District Court in Buffalo.
At the conclusion of the bench trial, Larimer announced his intent to reserve decision and issue a written decision. Canady learned of his conviction in February 1994 by reading about it in a newspaper.
The appeals court sent the case back to the District Court for a public pronouncement of the guilty verdict. (U.S. v. Canady; Defendant’s Counsel: Edward Zas, New York)