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State v. Slota

Supreme Court of South Dakota

March 18, 2015

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
FREDERICK BLAIR SLOTA, Defendant and Appellant

Considered on Briefs February 17, 2015.

As Amended June 3, 2015.

Page 114

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIFTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT BROWN COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA. THE HONORABLE TONY L. PORTRA Judge.

MARTY J. JACKLEY, Attorney General, KIRSTEN E. JASPER, Assistant Attorney General, Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

ELLERY GREY of Grey Law, Prof. LLC, Rapid City, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.

ZINTER, Justice. GILBERTSON, Chief Justice, and SEVERSON, WILBUR, and KERN, Justices, concur.

OPINION

Page 115

ZINTER, Justice.

[¶1] Fredrick Slota was tried on charges of first-degree rape and sexual contact involving a child. The trial judge,

Page 116

on his own initiative, and without a pre-closure hearing, closed the courtroom during the victim's testimony. Slota was convicted, and after trial the State moved to supplement the record with the reasons for the closure. The circuit court held a hearing and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting closure. Slota appeals, arguing that his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated; that the only appropriate remedy is a new trial; and, that if a new trial is not the only appropriate remedy, the State failed to present sufficient justification for the closure. We affirm.

Facts and Procedural History

[¶2] Slota was tried on charges of first-degree rape and sexual contact with a child under the age of sixteen. The victim, A.L., was seven years old at the time of the incident and eight years old at the time of trial.

[¶3] Before the trial started, the judge informed a newspaper reporter that he intended to close the courtroom during A.L.'s testimony. No motion was made by the State or Slota requesting the closure. Before A.L. testified, the judge announced: " The record should reflect that the courtroom has been cleared at this time." The judge did not hold a hearing, hear argument, or enter findings regarding the closure. The only people left in the courtroom after closure were the jury, one of A.L.'s adoptive parents, an expert witness, Slota, his counsel, and court staff. The closure was approximately ten to fifteen minutes in length. The public was allowed to be present for the rest of the trial. This included the presentation of a thirty-eight minute forensic interview of A.L., which was a more detailed account of the events than A.L.'s trial testimony. The jury found Slota guilty of both charges.

[¶4] After trial, the State moved to supplement the record with facts and reasons for the closure, and Slota moved for a new trial based on the closure. The court acknowledged that " a mistake was made and a further record should have been made regarding [the courtroom closure] issue." The court granted the State's motion to ...


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