Waller v. Georgia

LOCATION: Bland Correctional Center

DOCKET NO.: 83-321
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Georgia

CITATION: 467 US 39 (1984)
ARGUED: Mar 27, 1984
DECIDED: May 21, 1984

Herbert Shafer - on behalf of Petitioners
Mary Beth Westmoreland - on behalf of Respondent

Facts of the case

Acting under court authorization, Georgia police placed wiretaps on a number of phones and conducted searches pursuant to an investigation of illegal gambling. A number of people were indicted as a result of the investigation. The defendants moved to suppress the wiretaps and the evidence seized during the searches. Because the wiretap evidence related to alleged offenders not then on trial, Georgia moved to close to the public any hearing on the motion to suppress. A trial court upheld Georgia's move to close the hearing.


Did the closure of the hearing violate the right to a public trial under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Waller v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1984 in Waller v. Georgia

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Waller v. Georgia.

Mr. Shafer, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Herbert Shafer:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

We are here for three reasons.

The first relates to the closure of a suppression hearing over a defendant's objections.

The second relates to the statute which authorizes warrantless seizure of "property subject to forfeiture", and it was upheld by the court below.

And the third relates to the proper remedy when police treat an otherwise valid warrant as a license to conduct a totally indiscriminate search and a warrantless seizure.

I will address these issues each in turn.

First the closure.

We respectfully submit that the Constitution guarantees open suppression hearings, that suppression hearings may only be closed upon a demonstration of compelling justification, and then only if no means short of closure will achieve the compelling state purpose.

William H. Rehnquist:

Does your argument extend to the suppression hearings conducted previous to the impaneling of the jury, as well as to a suppression hearing conducted after the jury was impaneled?

Herbert Shafer:

Justice Rehnquist, we would not rest on so technical a ground.

Philosophically, the societal and defendant's interests are in this context so broad that we would not urge that the mere impaneling of a jury is the predicate for the position we urge.

We say that, irrespective of whether a jury has or has not been impaneled, that the interests are so broad and so compelling that closure, particularly over a defendant's objections, as in this case, cannot be squared with the Sixth Amendment's commands.

Nor, bearing in mind society's interests and the interests of the criminal justice system--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Shafer, supposing that you had a suppression motion well in advance of trial, but it's closed by the court.

The court refuses to suppress the evidence, it is then admitted at the trial, which is perfectly open.

Under your theory, the closure of the motion hearing would have violated the defendant's right to a public trial.

What would be the remedy for that violation?

Herbert Shafer:

--The remedy for that violation, because it is such an egregious affront to the Sixth Amendment right to open proceedings during the entire course of criminal proceedings, and to the First Amendment, that there can be only one remedy without trivializing the significance of both of these amendments, and that would be to send it back for a new trial in its entirety.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Nothing short of that?

Herbert Shafer:

Nothing short of that, no, sir.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Are you positive about that?

Herbert Shafer:

To treat it as a mere procedural quirk, without cloaking it with all the grandeur of these two amendments, is to demean it.

It's too grave an affront to both of these amendments to treat it as anything other than--

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, I took the Justice's hypothetical to say there was nothing wrong with the trial, the trial was open all the way.

Why wouldn't you have a suppression hearing repeated, and wouldn't that be enough by way of remedy?

Herbert Shafer:

--I'm sorry, I don't understand.

Harry A. Blackmun:

I understood that the hypothetical given by Justice Rehnquist was to the effect that the trial was perfectly open, the trial itself.

And why do you have to have a new trial then?