|Waller v. Georgia
[ Powell ]
Waller v. Georgia
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA
After court-authorized wiretaps of telephones by Georgia police revealed a large lottery operation, the police executed search warrants at numerous locations, including petitioners' homes. Petitioners and others were then indicted for violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and other state gambling statutes. Prior to trial, petitioners moved to suppress the wiretaps and evidence seized during the searches. The State moved to close the suppression hearing to the public, alleging that unnecessary "publication" of information obtained under the wiretaps would render the information inadmissible as evidence, and that the wiretap evidence would "involve" the privacy interests of some persons who were indicted but were not then on trial, and some who were not then indicted. The trial court agreed, finding that, insofar as the wiretap evidence related to alleged offenders not then on trial, the evidence would be tainted, and could not be used in future prosecutions. Accordingly, over petitioners' objections, the court ordered the suppression hearing closed to all persons other than witnesses, court personnel, the parties, and the lawyers. The suppression hearing lasted seven days, but less than 2 1/2 hours were devoted to playing the tapes of the intercepted telephone conversations, and few of them mentioned or involved parties not then before the court. The case was then tried before a jury in open court, and petitioners were acquitted under the RICO Act but convicted under the other statutes. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed.
1. Under the Sixth Amendment, any closure of a suppression hearing over the objections of the accused must meet the following tests: the party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced; the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest; the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the hearing; and it must make findings adequate to support the closure. Cf. Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California, 464 U.S. 501. Pp. 44-47.
2. Under the above tests, the closure of the entire suppression hearing here plainly was unjustified. The State's proffer was not specific as [p40] to whose privacy interests might be infringed if the hearing were open to the public, what portions of the wiretap tapes might infringe those interests, and what portion of the evidence consisted of the tapes. As a result, the trial court's findings were broad and general, and did not purport to justify closure of the entire hearing. And the court did not consider alternatives to immediate closure of the hearing. Pp. 48-49.
3. The case is remanded to the state courts to decide what portions, if any, of a new suppression hearing may be closed to the public in light of conditions at the time of that hearing. A new trial need be held only if a new, public suppression hearing results in the suppression of material evidence not suppressed at the first trial or in some other material change in the positions of the parties. Pp. 49-50.
251 Ga. 124, 303 S.E.2d 437, reversed and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.