Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The public has the right to be in the courtroom at every stage of the Parkland school shooting case. This includes final hearings that determine what evidence jurors will be allowed – and won’t – be heard, prosecutors and media lawyers argue.
The Broward State Attorney’s office this week filed a response to a defense request that, if approved by the court, would shut down the public and exit the courtroom until the trial began. This led to a clash with defense attorneys trying to protect Nicholas Cruz’s right to a sincere trial in the February 3 murders of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 14, 2018.
The trial of Cruz, 21, is tentatively scheduled to begin this fall with jury selection, a process that could take weeks or months given the level of pre-trial publicity and the possibility that many in Broward County have heard about the case and may have already formed opinions about This subject.
“The assumption of access to judicial proceedings is based on the fundamental principle that public awareness of judicial activism enhances court integrity, protects the rights of defendants, and enhances public acceptance of government,” the Broward State Attorney’s Office wrote in a response filed final Friday.
“Lockdown is a severe measure that must be carried out seldom – and only when it appears that the interest being served by closing outweighs the value of openness.”
The Broward Public Defender Office, which represents Cruz, believes that this case is one in which the public’s right to know conflicts with the defendant’s right to a sincere trial, and protecting the defendant is the primary responsibility of the Office.
If the case continues on schedule, hearings scheduled for the summer and beforetime fall will be the final prior the jury is selected. Defense attorneys are calling for some evidence and data to be limited to jurors’ ears, such as referring to Cruz as “a murderer” and “him” as well as Nazi symbols on some of his belongings.
“Public disclosure of inadmissible evidence harms the truth-seeking function of a criminal trial because it contaminates potential jurors with inflammatory, irrelevant and harmful information,” defense attorneys wrote.
Lawyers for several media outlets, including the South Florida Sun Sentinel, have filed petitions against the courtroom closure.
Attorney Rachel Fogat has written to media organizations that pretrial publicity, no matter how extensive, does not automatically unkind that a defendant’s right to a sincere trial has been jeopardized.
Cruz’s attorneys and the school district have clashed with the media throughout the case over issues of public access to information, including whether the state can release records showing who visits Cruz in prison and how much of their educational history the school districts must disclose.
Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Shearer set the date for August 13. 10 date a hearing to consider the arguments on both sides.