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Originally published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 10:44 AM

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Wash. high court wrestles with public trial right

Washington's Supreme Court is ordering new trials for three defendants, saying their right to a public trial was violated when potential jurors were questioned behind closed doors.

The Associated Press

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OLYMPIA, Wash. —

Washington's Supreme Court is ordering new trials for three defendants, saying their right to a public trial was violated when potential jurors were questioned behind closed doors.

The justices wrestled with the topic, issuing 14 lead, concurring and dissenting opinions Wednesday in four separate cases.

In three, involving burglary and molestation defendants, the justices held that any time potential jurors are questioned privately, the judge must determine whether there's a compelling reason for it, give those present an opportunity to object, and weigh the need for closure against the open administration of justice.

In the fourth case, the justices said that a judge's decision to answer a legal question from the jury in chambers did not violate a murder defendant's public trial right.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the court's approach is too strict because it reflexively overturns convictions without any analysis of whether the defendant received a fair trial.

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