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State v. Karas

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 3

April 12, 2018

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
PATRICK WAYNE KARAS, Appellant.

          SIDDOWAY, J.

         Patrick Wayne Karas seeks reversal of his convictions for second degree burglary and third degree theft, asserting his public trial right was violated by an unrecorded chambers conference in which the trial court heard an ER 615 motion to exclude witnesses and a motion in limine. We hold that the public trial right does not apply to rulings excluding witnesses under ER 615 but did apply to a motion in limine that had been raised before testimony began and could easily have been heard in the open courtroom. Reversal and remand for a new trial is required.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Facts underlying the charges against Patrick Karas for the most part are unimportant to this appeal. On the first morning of trial in September 2016, the jury was selected and was read the pattern advance oral instruction. The trial court then told jurors:

Now, folks, we're going to take up some matters, outside your presence. And, then, we'll have you back here, after lunch, for opening statements.
And let's have you back in the jury room, at 1:30, and we'll try to take up as quickly as we can after 1:30.

         Report of Proceedings (RP) (Apr. 14, 2016) at 81. The trial court cautioned jurors against discussing the case with anyone and told them the bailiff was then going to "show you where your new home away from home is." Id. at 82.

         Although not reflected in the report of proceedings, a chambers conference then took place. The report of proceedings takes up again with proceedings in open court, but outside the presence of the jury:

THE COURT: Okay. For the record, Counsel met in chambers, and discussed only legal issues. And we did discuss some motions.
One was a motion to exclude witnesses, by the defendant. The Court granted that motion.
And the Court was advised that the State will have Officer Josh Mathena as its representative, to be seated at counsel table. Everyone else is excluded.
There's also a motion, by the defendant, to keep out testimony by- who was the officer? Corulli?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Corulli.
THE COURT: Corulli, who, apparently, in his report, indicates some statements made by a cashier, at a business across from the alleged victim's business. And the Court granted that motion. Officer Corulli can't talk about what the cashier said.
It was also indicated that the alleged victim had that conversation with the cashier. And the Court did not grant a motion in limine, preventing the alleged victim from ...

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