At the Appeals Court, Assistant Essex District Attorney Ronald DeRosa argued that banning Perez’s relatives from the courtroom during jury selection was “de minimis” — a Latin expression meaning trivial or about minimal things — because it involved “only two people for approximately one hour on the second day of a two-day jury empanelment.”
The Appeals Court disagreed. The justices ruled that denying a defendant the right to a public trial “is a structural error and not susceptible to harmless error.”
According to a summary of the case, Perez’ mother and sister waited outside the courtroom as 15 to 20 of 55 potential jurors were interviewed inside. After the jury was selected, there was also discussion of certain motions while the relatives were required to wait in the hallway. At one point, Perez’ lawyer left the courtroom to retrieve a suit from his client’s relatives.
“Although the defendant’s family could have stayed longer, they decided to leave following their conversation with the lawyer, considering that they could not enter the courtroom,” the Appeal Court summary said.
The ruling said the trial judge eventually learned that excluding the public from jury selection was, at the time, the practice of court officers in the Lawrence session of Superior Court.
“This was apparently done due to space restrictions and as a matter of convenience and comfort for both the venire (jury pool) and the public,” the Appeals Court ruling said. “Two court officers testified this was indeed the general practice from 2006 to 2008.”
At Perez’ 2007 trial, the jury deliberated for about 11 hours over three days before returning its guilty verdict, according to a news report in The Eagle-Tribune. Assistant District Attorney Marcia Slingerland was the original prosecutor.
Judge Whitehead imposed the sentence of 20 to 25 years for armed home invasion, and another 12- to 15-year sentence for armed robbery. The sentences were to be served a the same time.