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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. John T., 79 N.Y.S.3d 761 (N.Y. App. Div. 2018)

October 25, 2018

The state commenced a sex offender management proceeding against a sex offender.  The sex offender moved to seal the record and to close the courtroom during his upcoming trial to protect the confidentiality of his mental health information.  The court granted the request to seal the records, but denied closing the courtroom.  The sex offender moved for reargument and the state joined in the sex offender’s request to close the courtroom, but solely for the purpose of protecting the victims’ confidentiality.  The court denied the motion and the sex offender appealed.  On appeal the court noted that the lower court had taken steps to protect the victims in this case.  Nevertheless, the court was persuaded that the details of the case that may be discussed during trial could lead to the identification of the victims in the media.  “The risk is particularly acute in view of the online presence that permits many of today’s media outlets to disseminate news beyond their subscribers and their local geographic area, in a form that may foster public discussion in comments or on social media, and which then remains permanently available.”  The court further noted that public policy generally disfavors limitations on public access to court proceedings, however, that right is not absolute and must be balanced against other interests.  Upon balancing the competing interests, including the privacy of the parties, the court found that there was a significant risk that a public trial could compromise the anonymity of the victims.  The court thus found good cause to close the courtroom.  The lower court’s order was reversed on the issue of closing the courtroom and otherwise affirmed.