MN Supreme Court upholds photo ID use by state courts

If spectators are required to show a photo ID to attend a trial in Minnesota courts, does it violate a defendant’s right to a public trial?

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled it doesn’t while warning judges to be careful with the practice.

The divided justices ruled in the case of a member of Minneapolis’ Young-N-Thuggin gang who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy in October 2012.

To prevent problems, a Hennepin County Judge Daniel Mabley prohibited profanity, threatening gestures, gum chewing, and cell phones, and required spectators to show photographic identification before being allowed entry into the courtroom.

In his appeal, Kemen Taylor’s lawyer argued that because not everyone has an ID, it constituted a partial closure of the courtroom.

Today, Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug, writing for the majority, rejected the claim.

“There is no evidence in the record that a significant portion of the public was unable to attend due to the identification requirement; that Taylor, his family, his friends, or any witnesses were excluded; or that any individuals actually excluded were known to Taylor,” he wrote (pdf).

Lillehaug cautioned judges, however, not to require photo ID to attend a court session unless there’s good reason. “We do not want anyone to be discouraged from attending or viewing proceedings in Minnesota courts,” he said.

But retiring Supreme Court Justice Alan Page disagreed with Lillehaug’s assessment, calling it “another step in our march to limit the public’s access to our courtrooms.”

Page likened the situation to the failed constitutional amendment in Minnesota that would have required people to show a photo ID in order to vote in an election.

“It is clear to me now, however, that the practice of closing courtrooms to the public has creeped ‘its way into the routine of many of Minnesota’s criminal courts,’” Page said. “The breadth and scope of the closures that are occurring compel me to conclude that it is time to stop the creep.”

And Page took one final shot before retiring at the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month to allow cameras in Minnesota courts.

“The irony is not lost on me that, on one hand, the court is quick to permit trial courts to lock the courtroom doors or otherwise deny access to courtrooms to individual citizens; while on the other hand, the court is in haste to expand the use of video cameras in those same courtrooms in the name of public access and education, without regard to the harm that the expanded camera coverage may cause,” he wrote in his dissent.