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    06.26.17 Professor Jocelyn Simonson Cited in U.S. Supreme Court Decision
    Brooklyn Law School - Professor Jocelyn Simonson

    The U.S. Supreme Court cited work by Professor Jocelyn Simonson in its majority opinion issued on June 22 in Weaver v. Massachusetts, a case about the right to a public trial.  Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion cited Simonson’s 2014 Harvard Law Review article, “The Criminal Court Audience in a Post-Trial World,” in which she examined the importance of the right to a public trial in the world of plea bargaining. 

    The question in Weaver was whether a defendant is entitled to an automatic grant of habeas corpus for ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel fails to object to a violation of the public trial right. In Weaver’s case, his defense attorney failed to object when Weaver’s mother and minister were prevented from entering the courtroom during jury selection, and appellate counsel failed to raise the issue on direct appeal. Ordinarily, a violation of a defendant’s right to a public trial is a structural error, an error so fundamental to basic justice that its violation entitles a defendant to a new trial. However, in Weaver, the majority opinion held that where both trial counsel and appellate counsel fail to raise the issue, a defendant must show that prejudice resulted from the courtroom closure in order to receive a grant of habeas for ineffective assistance of counsel. Justice Kennedy cited Simonson’s work for her analysis of the limited exceptions to the right to a public trial. 

    “I am honored that the Court chose to cite to my article,” Simonson said, “but disappointed that the majority opinion did not recognize that a violation of the right to a public trial is so intrinsically harmful to a democratic criminal justice system that it should not be subject to case-by-case review for prejudice, even in the context of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.”  Simonson’s article was one of only two law review articles cited in the 30 pages of opinions in the case.

    At the Law School, Simonson teaches courses in criminal law and evidence. She is co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice. Her schol­arship explores ways in which the public participates in criminal justice processes and how that participation has the potential to lead to broader changes in the justice system. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in the Harvard Law ReviewCalifornia Law ReviewGeorgetown Law Journal, and NYU Review of Law & Social Change.