United States v. Dharni

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 01-03-2014
  • Case #: 11-16438
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wallace for the Court; Circuit Judges Fisher and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

It is not a violation of a petitioner's Sixth Amendment rights to ask spectators and petitioner's family members to leave the courtroom during voir dire to allow seating for a jury pool.

Sundeep Dharni filed a motion under 28 U.S.C § 2255 to vacate a sentence because he claimed ineffective assistance of counsel and that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated by excluding family members and spectators from the courtroom during the voir dire of his criminal trial. The trial took place around a holiday weekend, and the jury pool was larger than normal because of the expectation that many prospective jurors would have scheduling conflicts. The judge then asked for Dharni's family members and other spectators at the trial to leave the courtroom because the courtroom "did not have much audience room," and it needed to seat all of the prospective jurors first. The voir dire process proceeded after the spectators and family members left the courtroom, and Dharni was convicted at trial. Dharni claimed that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because he was not allowed a public trial. He also claimed ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney did not object to the judge's request that family members and spectators leave the room during voir dire. The Ninth Circuit found that Dharni's Sixth Amendment right was not implicated by closing the courtroom because spectators were able to return to the courtroom when seats opened up. Additionally, the panel found that excluding spectators from a portion of voir dire was trivial and therefore not prejudicial. The panel further held that because Dharni’s rights were not violated, his ineffective assistance of counsel claim was also denied. AFFIRMED.

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