Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio
the 379th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial
Court No. 2010CR4286C Honorable Ron Rangel, Judge Presiding
Angelini, Justice Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice Irene Rios,
C. Martinez, Justice
case is before us on remand from the Court of Criminal
Appeals. Vanessa Cameron was convicted of the murder for hire
of her child's father and sentenced to seventy years in
prison. On appeal, Cameron raised several issues, including
that she was deprived of her constitutional right to a public
trial during voir dire. A majority of this court agreed, and
we reversed her conviction and remanded for a new trial. The
Court of Criminal Appeals initially affirmed, but issued a
new opinion on rehearing reversing and remanding. In its
opinion on rehearing, the Court held that a defendant bears
an initial burden of proof on appeal to show that the
courtroom was "in fact closed" to the public before
an appellate court may consider whether the closure was
justified. The Court therefore reversed and remanded the case
for our reconsideration of the public trial issue under the
sequential two-step test. See Cameron v. State, 490
S.W.3d 57, 70 (Tex. Crim. App.) (op. on reh'g), cert.
denied, 137 S.Ct. 95 (2016).
only facts relevant to this appeal are those surrounding the
alleged closing of the courtroom to the exclusion of
Cameron's family and friends, as well as the public,
during the voir dire phase of trial. In a nutshell,
Cameron's family and friends were instructed by the
bailiffs to leave the courtroom prior to the start of voir
dire so the large venire panel could be seated. Cameron's
family and friends understood that they were not allowed to
re-enter the courtroom during the voir dire proceedings.
Defense counsel made the trial court aware they had been
excluded from the courtroom and objected to a violation of
Cameron's right to a public trial. A lengthy discussion
occurred both on and off the record, with the trial court
repeatedly stating the courtroom was not "closed"
but there was no room for the family or public inside the
courtroom to observe voir dire. The relevant statements made
by the trial court and counsel on the record are discussed in
detail in the Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion as well
as the prior majority and dissenting opinions by this court.
See id. at 65-67; see also Cameron v.
State, 415 S.W.3d 404, 406-408 (Tex. App.-San Antonio
2013), rev'd, 490 S.W.3d 70 (Tex. Crim. App.
2016); see also id. at 415-21 (Angelini, J.,
Cameron was tried and convicted, she filed a motion for new
trial alleging her right to a public trial was violated
during voir dire. She attached twelve affidavits from her
family and friends stating the bailiffs instructed them to
leave the courtroom before the jury panel entered and they
did not witness any of the voir dire proceedings. The
affidavit by Cameron's mother, a San Antonio police
officer, also states that she requested to come in and sit on
the floor during voir dire, but the bailiff denied her
request and stated she would be a security risk. The State
filed a response to the motion for new trial and attached
affidavits from two bailiffs stating they did not close the
courtroom to the public during voir dire. One of the bailiffs
confirms in his affidavit that he denied the request by
Cameron's mother to sit on the floor based on security
concerns. The trial court did not hold a hearing on the
motion for new trial. It signed an order acknowledging
presentment of the motion for new trial and stating the
motion would be determined based solely upon the affidavits.
Although the court did not enter a written order denying the
motion, it adopted the State's proposed findings of fact
in opposition to the motion. Specifically, the trial court
made the following sixteen findings of fact:
1. The Court never ruled that observers were
excluded from the voir dire or any other part of the trial in
2. The defense attorney in this case was more inclined to
obtain a ruling from the court and seemed less inclined to
accept any solutions offered by the Court.
3. Prior to the venire panel entering the courtroom, the
defense attorney never requested the Court to allow him to go
outside and bring the defendant's family and friends into
the courtroom; nor did he ask for a break to call family and
friends to come into the courtroom. The Court made it clear
that the public was not excluded from the courtroom.
4. The Court offered to open up the doors in the back of the
court and let the public observe from the hall area.
5. The Court attempted to find places for the public to
6. Suggestions were offered to the attorney for the defense
regarding placement of observers, both on and off the record.
7. Both on and off the record, suggestions were requested
from the defense attorney as to where he would like the
observers to be placed in the courtroom.
8. Besides the time when the Court's bailiffs cleared the
courtroom to bring the venirepanel [sic] in and get the panel
seated, on two other occasions (one involving a venireman who
had a medical episode and another involving a security alarm)
the courtroom had to be cleared again.
9. No Court personnel ordered observers to leave the
10. The Court did not order the bailiffs or anyone else to
tell spectators to leave the courtroom.
11. The Court did not order the bailiffs or anyone else to
tell spectators to leave the courthouse.
12. The bailiff's [sic] did not tell spectators that they
should leave the courthouse.
13. The bailiff's [sic] did not tell spectators that they
would not be allowed to watch the proceedings.
14. If observers had entered after the jury panel was seated,
they would have been allowed back in the courtroom by the
Court during the proceedings in this case.
15. Prior to voir dire in this case, the Court's bailiffs
cleared the courtroom in order to make room to bring the
venire panel into the courtroom and to get them organized and
seated, but they did not tell any spectators that they were
not allowed to watch the voir dire or any other part of the
proceedings in this case.
16. During other trials in the past, including during voir
dire proceedings, the 379th Court has had spectators in the
to a Public Trial
Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a public trial in all
criminal prosecutions. U.S. Const. amend. VI; Johnson v.
United States, 520 U.S. 461, 468-69 (1997). The right
extends to the jury selection phase of trial, including voir
dire of prospective jurors. Presley v. Georgia, 558
U.S. 209, 212-13 (2010) (per curiam). Violation of a criminal
defendant's right to a public trial is structural error
that does not ...