Madison County courtroom blocked to spectators; judge explains new rules under pandemic

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The trial that began Monday for Damion Briggs, a Huntsville man charged with five counts of sodomy in the first degree, is being conducted under unusual conditions.

Court records show Briggs is charged with committing the crime upon a child under the age of 6.

But News 19 was told Judge Alison Austin’s courtroom, where the trial is taking place, had been closed to the public. A sign on the courtroom door said the same thing.

Sign posted outside of courtroom at Madison County Courthouse

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a defendant a right to a “speedy and public trial.”

News 19 spoke with presiding Madison County Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall to find out why no one is being allowed inside.

“The courtroom is not closed, we’re giving people remote access to attend,” Hall said. “We’re trying our best to abide by CDC guidelines. But people are being allowed to watch the trial in the court administrator’s office or my courtroom.”

Hall said in the age of COVID-19 a public trial doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be physically in the courtroom. The judge said they are using Zoom to stream the proceedings. The judge said no other large courtrooms were available, as other cases are being tried.

When Briggs’s trial began Monday, Hall’s courtroom was not open to the public. A small number of people were allowed to gather in the court administrator’s office; the exact number is unknown. Hall said the district attorney also allowed the victim’s family to watch the trial from his office.

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