Roger Laplante v. James Crosby ( 2005 )

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                             FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT            FILED
                               ________________________ U.S. COURT OF APPEALS
                                                                     ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
                                      No. 04-12468                      JUNE 7, 2005
                                  Non-Argument Calendar               THOMAS K. KAHN
                                ________________________                  CLERK
                        D. C. Docket No. 00-02609-CV-T-27-TGW
    JAMES CROSBY, Secretary, Department of Corrections,
    CHARLES CRIST, Attorney General of the State of Florida,
                        Appeal from the United States District Court
                            for the Middle District of Florida
                                       (June 7, 2005)
    Before ANDERSON, DUBINA and MARCUS, Circuit Judges.
          Roger Laplante, a Florida state prisoner serving a life sentence for sexual
    battery of a six-year-old child, challenges the district court’s denial of his pro se 28
    U.S.C. § 2254 habeas petition.         The district court granted a certificate of
    appealability (“COA”), on the following issue: “whether the Florida trial court’s
    closure of the courtroom during the 6-year-old child victim’s testimony complied
    with the four-part test set out in Waller v. Georgia, [
    467 U.S. 39
    104 S. Ct. 2210
    81 L. Ed. 2d 31
     (1984)], as applied in Judd v. Haley, 
    250 F.3d 1308
    , 1314 (11th
    Cir. 2001), Fla. Stat. § 918.16 notwithstanding.” 1
           We review a district court’s grant or denial of a § 2254 habeas petition de
    novo. See Sims v. Singletary, 
    155 F.3d 1297
    , 1304 (11th Cir. 1998). In W illiams
    v. Taylor, 
    529 U.S. 362
    120 S. Ct. 1495
    146 L. Ed. 2d 389
     (2000), the Supreme
    Court set forth the standard of review to be applied to a state prisoner’s application
    for habeas relief brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. According to the Court, §
    2254(d)(1) “prohibits a federal court from granting an application for a writ of
    habeas corpus with respect to a claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless
    that adjudication ‘resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an
    unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the
             The COA is limited to this issue. Laplante filed a motion to expand the COA, which we
    previously denied, both on initial consideration and on reconsideration. Accordingly, we will
    consider Laplante’s argument only on the COA’s issue, and not on additional arguments that are
    beyond the scope of the COA. See Dorsey v. Chapman, 
    262 F.3d 1181
    , 1185 n.3 (11th Cir. 2001)
    (declining to address issues not included in the COA granted by the district court).
            We also note that Laplante’s assertion that the trial court’s closure of the courtroom violated
    Florida law does not provide a basis for federal habeas relief. Cf. Branan v. Booth, 
    861 F.2d 1507
    1508 (11th Cir. 1988) (“a habeas petition grounded on issues of state law provides no basis for
    habeas relief”). Thus, in addition to being beyond the scope of the COA, that argument is not an
    appropriate ground for federal habeas relief.
    Supreme Court of the United States.’” Id. at 399, 120 S. Ct. at 1516 (quoting 28
    U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)).
           After thorough review of the record, including the pertinent transcripts, and
    careful consideration of the parties’ briefs, we find no reversible error and affirm.
           Laplante was tried and convicted of one count of sexual battery on a child
    less than twelve years of age and one count of lewd and lascivious acts in the
    presence of a child, all in violation of Florida law. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 918.16,2
    the state trial court closed the courtroom during the testimony of the six-year-old
    victim concerning her contact with Laplante.                 Upon the State’s request for the
    closure, the trial court, without objection by Laplante, ordered the general public’s
    exclusion during the victim’s testimony. Over Laplante’s subsequent objection,
    the trial court also excluded Laplante’s family from the courtroom during the
           On direct appeal from his conviction, Laplante argued that the trial court’s
               The applicable version of § 918.16 provided:
                           In the trial of any case, civil or criminal, when any person under the
                           age of 16 . . . is testifying concerning any sex offense, the court shall
                           clear the courtroom of all persons except parties to the cause and
                           their immediate families or guardians, attorneys and their secretaries,
                           officers of the court, jurors, newspaper reporters or broadcasters,
                           court reporters, and, at the request of the victim, victim or witness
                           advocates designated by the state attorney’s office.
    Fla. Stat. § 918.16 (1997).
    closure of the courtroom did not comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in
    Waller v. Georgia, 
    467 U.S. 39
    104 S. Ct. 2210
    81 L. Ed. 2d 31
     (1984), which,
    the parties agree, is the clearly established federal law, within the meaning of the
    AEDPA, on the issue of courtroom closures in circumstances such as those
    presented here. Thus, Laplante exhausted this claim in the state court proceedings
    prior to bringing this federal habeas action. The state appellate court affirmed
    Laplante’s conviction in a per curiam summary decision. See Laplante v. State,
    736 So. 2d 1190
     (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1999) (Table).
           Laplante then filed this claim for federal habeas relief, again asserting a
    violation of Waller based on the closure of the courtroom, including exclusion of
    his family members, during the victim’s testimony.3 In Waller, the state trial court
    closed a suppression hearing over the objection of the defendant on account of the
    privacy interests of certain individuals who could be heard on the various wiretap
    recordings that were to be presented. See 467 U.S. at 41-42, 104 S.Ct. at 2212-13.
    The Supreme Court held that in order for the closure of the suppression hearing to
               The parties debate whether this case involves a total closure or a partial closure, within
    the meaning of Fla. Stat. § 918.16 and our decisions in Judd and Douglas v. Wainwright, 
    739 F.2d 531
     (11th Cir. 1984). For purposes of our analysis of the Waller claim, we assume, without
    deciding, that this was a total closure and, accordingly, the state court’s decision had to satisfy the
    Waller test. See Judd, 250 F.3d at 1315 (observing that in both partial and total closures, “a court
    must hold a hearing and articulate specific findings,” but holding that only a total closure must
    “satisfy the elements of the more rigorous Waller test.” (quotation omitted)); cf. Douglas, 739 F.2d
    at 532 (finding courtroom closure was only partial because “the press and family members of the
    defendant, witness, and decedent were allowed to remain”).
    be in accordance with the defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights,
          [1] the party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding
          interest that is likely to be prejudiced, [2] the closure must be no
          broader than necessary to protect that interest, [3] the trial court must
          consider reasonable alternatives to closing the proceeding, and [4] it
          must make findings adequate to support the closure.
    Id. at 48, 104 S. Ct. at 2216. The Court then determined that the closure in that
    case was plainly not justified because (1) “the State’s proffer was not specific”;
    (2) “the trial court’s findings were broad and general”; (3) “[t]he court did not
    consider alternatives to immediate closure of the entire hearing”; and (4) “the
    closure was far more extensive than necessary.” Id. at 48-49, 104 S. Ct. at 2216-
          Here, in rejecting Laplante’s argument based on Waller, the district court
    observed the following:
                 Petitioner has not established that the trial court’s decision to
          close the courtroom during the child victim’s testimony was contrary
          to or an unreasonable application of the Supreme Court holding in
          Waller, and its progeny. The trial court made sufficient factual
          findings to enable a review of whether the decision to close the trial
          was appropriate and no broader than necessary to protect the child’s
          interests, considering Supreme Court precedent. Those findings
          addressed the child’s tender age, the sensitive and potential traumatic
          nature of her expected testimony and the necessity of protecting her
          interests over the Sixth Amendment rights of the Petitioner. The court
          appropriately weighed the competing interests, considered the manner
          in which the competing interests could best be served and found that
          the state had an overriding interest in the victim’s welfare which
          outweighed Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to a public trial.
          Petitioner has failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence
          that the state court’s decision was contrary to or an unreasonable
          application of clearly established Supreme Court law or an
          unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence.
    (footnote omitted).
          We too conclude that the state trial court’s closure of the courtroom during
    the victim’s testimony, as well as the state appellate court’s affirmance of that
    decision in Laplante’s direct appeal raising this Waller claim, was neither contrary
    to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established Supreme Court law, as
    stated in Waller. On the first factor, the prosecutor stated that she wanted the
    courtroom closed so that “the child [could] testify in relative calm.” The state trial
    court took this to mean the prosecutor was concerned with “the protection of this
    child.” The Supreme Court has recognized the protection of “the physical and
    psychological well-being of a minor” is a “compelling” state interest in the context
    of a courtroom closure during a criminal trial involving the forcible rape and
    forced unnatural rape of three minors. Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court for
    Norfolk County, 
    457 U.S. 596
    , 607, 
    102 S. Ct. 2613
    , 2620 (1982).
          As for the second Waller factor, although the prosecutor sought a total
    closure during the trial, with the exception of the victim’s advocate, the state trial
    court limited the total closure to the minor-victim’s testimony.    Laplante did not
    object to the initial request for a closure, and when he objected to the exclusion of
    members of his family, the trial court found that the protection of the child (a
    compelling state interest under Globe Newspaper) required the family members to
    be excluded along with the general public.
          On the third factor, it is clear that the state trial court considered other
    alternatives, including whether to close the courtroom to everybody, including the
    defendant’s family and the victim’s advocate. The trial court ultimately concluded
    that the victim’s advocate should be permitted to remain and, therefore, modified
    the original ruling excluding everyone. After considering further argument on why
    the defendant’s family also should remain, the court concluded that “in this
    particular instance the protection of this child outweighs any Sixth Amendment
    right that [Laplante] may have to have the members of his family present.”
          Finally, on the fourth Waller factor, the trial court’s findings were adequate
    to support its decision to close the courtroom. Some factors that are important to
    consider   include   “the    minor   victim’s   age,   psychological    maturity   and
    understanding, the nature of the crime, the desires of the victim, and the interests of
    parents and relatives.”     Globe Newspaper, 457 U.S. at 608, 102 S.Ct. at 2621
    (footnote omitted); see also Judd, 250 F.3d at 1319 (discussing the lack of evidence
    on some of these factors). Here, the state court considered: (1) the victim’s age,
    commenting about “the young age of the child,” and also noting that she was “a
    six-year-old”; (2) the psychological maturity and understanding of the victim when
    the court expressed its understanding that she was going to testify concerning
    “areas that are going to be extremely sensitive to the child and possibly traumatic”;
    (3) the nature of the crime and the resulting testimony that would be elicited,
    noting more than once that this was a “sexual battery” case, and also that the
    testimony would concern “extremely sensitive” facts; and (4) the interests of the
    victim’s relatives when it allowed for the victim’s aunt, who was also acting as the
    victim’s advocate, to remain present during the testimony.
          On this record, neither the state trial court’s decision to close the courtroom
    nor the state appellate court’s rejection of Laplante’s Waller claim was contrary to,
    or an unreasonable application of, Waller. Although the sate trial court did not
    explicitly state it was applying the Waller test, we readily conclude that it was not
    objectively unreasonable for the state appellate court to affirm the trial court’s
    decision. Accordingly, we affirm the denial of federal habeas relief.