North Dakota v. WalbertAnnotate this Case
Russell Walbert appealed an amended criminal judgment after a jury found him guilty of gross sexual imposition. At a pretrial conference, the State moved to stop people from entering and exiting the courtroom while the victim testified during trial. The State made clear it was “not asking for the courtroom to be closed, just that we don’t have those interruptions while she’s testifying, if there’s no objection to that. Whoever is in, stays in. Whoever is out, stays out.” Walbert agreed to the State’s request. The court did not enter a written order and did not analyze its decision under the four-factor test found in Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984). Walbert argued the district court created a structural error by denying his constitutional right to a public trial. He claimed the court was required to engage in a Waller analysis before closing the courtroom, and the court’s failure to do so requires reversal. The North Dakota Supreme Court found judges possessed broad power to control their courtrooms, minimize disruptive behavior, and maintain security, and here, the district court's actions did not constitute a closure. Judgment was thus affirmed.