Screen at issue in state Supreme Court case

Oct 5, 2011

The state Supreme Court will decide whether a man charged with sexually assaulting two children was denied a fair trial because one of the victims testified from behind a screen. The screen shielded her view of the defendant. But he could still see her.

The defendant's attorney, Scott Grabel, says the screen made the jury more likely to believe his client was guilty:

“The only inference is the victim is scared of the defendant and they can look at everybody else in the courtroom. They’re free to look at everyone else because of the way the screen is positioned. And that’s why the defendant was denied a fair trial.”

The prosecutor argued the screen did not prejudice the jury, and was an acceptable compromise to protect both the victim of a crime and the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

 "The child in this case testified under oath, in a courtroom open to the public – an indicia of reliability. The defendant was in the courtroom and could see and hear her through the screen," said Allegan County prosecutor Judy Hughes Astle.

The defendant's attorney said there were better alternatives to keep the defendant and the victim separated, such as having the girl testify via video.

Both the prosecutor and the defense agreed that in most cases, there should not be a barrier that shields someone testifying from seeing a defendant.