BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The First Amendment Coalition has filed a brief with the Kern County Superior Court urging a judge to keep criminal hearings involving Armando Cruz open to the public.
Cruz, a Southern California man, was charged earlier this year with the murder and rape of 13-year-old Patricia Alatorre and is facing the death penalty. The FAC’s brief asks that a judge reject a request by Cruz’s defense team to keep pretrial hearings in the case closed to the public.
In their motion, Cruz’s lawyers said they are seeking closed proceedings out of concern that pretrial publicity in the press impinges on their client’s right to a fair trial. The motion also argues that due to COVID-19, open hearings would pose a health risk to their client and others.
“Because of the information provided to the press, it is highly unlikely that Mr. Cruz will receive a fair trial given the prejudicial publicity generated so early in the case, the motion says. “Accordingly, this court should close the preliminary hearing, all pretrial hearings, and issue a protective order.”
The FAC argues in its brief that the public has a right to have access to the proceedings and that the defense team has not provided the evidence necessary to require a closure.
“There is an extremely high bar for closing courtrooms in criminal proceedings, and for good reason: We don’t do secret prosecutions in this country,” said David Snyder, executive director of the FAC. “The First Amendment and California law are clear: Absent extraordinary circumstances not present in the Cruz case, the public has the right to see how their judicial system works.”
Cruz has pleaded not guilty in the case, which has its next hearing set for Oct. 22. The FAC said it will be arguing for public access at the hearing.