Michigan v. DavisAnnotate this Case
Defendant Donald Davis, Jr., was convicted by jury on multiple felonies in connection with the shooting death of Devante Hanson. During a recess on the second day of the trial, the mother of the victim’s child made contact with a juror in the hallway. When the trial resumed, the court ordered the woman and all other spectators, with the exception of the victim’s mother, removed from the courtroom and directed them not to return for the remainder of the trial. After his conviction, defendant appealed and moved to remand for an evidentiary hearing, arguing that he had been denied his constitutional right to a public trial and that his trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to object to the closure of the courtroom. The Court of Appeals granted the motion. On remand, following the evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied defendant’s motion for a new trial, stating that it had not actually closed the courtroom to the public and that the doors were never locked. In addition, the court concluded that while it had poorly worded its directive to the spectators not to return during the trial, defendant was not prejudiced by the removal because no one supporting defendant had been affected by the removal order. The Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that the courtroom had been “cleared” rather than closed, that defendant had waived his right to a public trial when defense counsel failed to object to the clearing of the courtroom, and that even if the courtroom had been closed and the error had been forfeited rather than waived, defendant would not have been entitled to relief because any error in this regard would not have warranted reversal. The Michigan Supreme Court found that the trial court’s closure of the courtroom for nearly the entirety of defendant’s trial after a single, benign interaction between an observer and a juror constituted plain error. Because the deprivation of a defendant’s public-trial right was a structural error, the error necessarily affected defendant’s substantial rights. This structural error presumptively satisfied the plain-error standard’s requirements for reversal, and neither the prosecution’s arguments nor the record evidence rebutted that presumption. The Court of Appeals judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial.