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People v. Montoya.

2024 COA 37. No. 21CA1539. Sixth Amendment—Right to Public Trial—Waller Test—Failure or Refusal to Leave Premises—Barricading.

April 18, 2024

The sheriff’s office received a call that Montoya broke into a house, and when they arrived on scene, they saw Montoya inside the house. The officers gave Montoya several commands to unlock the door and come outside, after which he left the house and was arrested. Montoya was charged with first-degree criminal trespass, failure to leave the premises, and criminal mischief. Montoya went to trial without counsel during the COVID-19 pandemic. The jurors were seated throughout the courtroom to allow for social distancing, and the public watched the trial via Webex. Throughout the trial, the Webex camera was focused solely on the judge, counsel, and Montoya. Montoya was convicted as charged.

On appeal, Montoya contended that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial by completely closing the courtroom without making required findings under Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984). To implicate a defendant’s right to a public trial, a courtroom closure must be nontrivial. Under Waller, to protect a defendant’s public trial right, a nontrivial courtroom closure requires that (1) the party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced; (2) the closure must not be broader than necessary to protect that interest; (3) the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the hearing; and (4) the trial court must make findings adequate to support the closure. Here, the trial court physically excluded the entire public from the courtroom for the duration of the trial without making findings under Waller. Therefore, the closure was at least partial and nontrivial. Further, there is no record evidence that would support any of the Waller factors, so the closure constituted structural error.

Montoya also argued that his conviction for failure to leave the premises under CRS § 18-9-119(2) must be vacated because the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to show that he used or threatened to use force to prevent law enforcement from entering the premises. The court of appeals concluded that the plain language of § 18-9-119 provides two ways of committing failure to leave the premises: (1) by barricading and refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so by law enforcement, or (2) by refusing police entry by using or threatening to use force and refusing to leave the premises when asked to do so by law enforcement. Here, the record shows that when police officers arrived on scene, they saw that the French doors to the house had been barricaded with a two-by-four placed in the space beneath them. Additionally, officers saw Montoya inside the house behind the French doors and repeatedly told him to open the doors and come outside, but Montoya only complied after repeated orders. Therefore, sufficient evidence supports Montoya’s conviction under the § 18-9-119 barricading clause, so he may be retried on this charge.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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