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United States v. Aguilar

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 9, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SIMONE AGUILAR, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S REQUESTS TO SEAL DOCUMENTS

          GARLAND E. BURRELL, JR. Senior United States District Judge

         On November 1, 2017, Defendant Simone Aguilar filed on the public docket a Notice of Request to Seal Documents in which she states “she is requesting to file under seal: (1) a twenty-one page document filed with the Court in connection with the criminal prosecution of Simone Aguilar based upon the concerns articulated in the Defendant's Request to Seal Documents; and (2) a Request to Seal Documents.” Notice at 1:16-19, ECF No. 101. Defendant submitted for in camera consideration the documents she desires sealed via an email addressed to the Courtroom Deputy Clerk.

         On November 3, 2017, Defendant filed on the public docket a second Notice of Request to Seal Documents in which she states “she is requesting to file under seal Findings And [Proposed] Order Sealing Defendant's Request To Seal And Sentencing Brief.” Second Notice at 1:16-18, ECF No. 102 (alteration in original). The proposed order is made public in this order notwithstanding Defendant's publicly filed notice that she seeks to file it under seal. The referenced proposed order reads:

Having considered the Defendant's Request to Seal, Sentencing Brief, Local Rule 141(b) and the considerations set forth in the case of Oregonian Publishing Co. v. United States District Court for the District of Oregon, 920 F.2d 1462, 1466 (9th Cir. 1990).
THE COURT HEREBY FINDS THAT:
1. Defendant Simone Aguilar's privacy interest and right to effective assistance of counsel are compelling interests;
2. In the absence of sealing these compelling interests would be harmed;
3. There are no alternatives to sealing that would adequately protect those compelling interests.

         Therefore IT IS ORDERED THAT Defendant's Sentencing Brief and Request to Seal be filed under seal These proposed judicial sealing findings are too conclusory to justify Defendant's closure request, and Defendant provides no reason justifying why this conclusory order should be filed under seal. Proposed judicial findings to be included in such a sealing order are required to evince that the public's presumed right of access under the First Amendment doctrine is “overcome . . . by an overriding interest” and “that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The interest is to be articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the closure order was properly entered.” Press-Enter. Co. v. Superior Court of California, 478 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1986). Further, it is pellucid that “[t]he trial court should only seal that part of its findings that is necessary to protect [legitimate compelling privacy or other interests], and it must make every effort to explain as much of its decision as possible on the public record to enable an interested person to intelligently challenge the decision.” Washington Post v. Robinson, 935 F.2d 282, 289 (D.C. Cir. 1991).

         Defendant's first sealing request (ECF No. 101) also references sealing jurisprudence in a woefully conclusory manner. “Under the first amendment, the press and the public have a presumed right of access to court proceedings and documents.” Oregonian Pub. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Court, 920 F.2d 1462, 1466 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 510 (1985)). Further, “the First Amendment right of access applies to sentencing proceedings.” United States v. Rivera, 682 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 2012); but see, e.g., United States v. Alcantara, 396 F.3d 189, 197 n. 6 (2d Cir. 2005) (“Courts have generally held . . . that there is no First Amendment right of access to pre-sentence reports.” (citing United States v. Corbitt, 879 F.2d 224, 237 (7th Cir. 1989)).

         When considering such a sealing request, the Ninth Circuit has explained:

We begin with the presumption that the public and the press have a right of access to criminal proceedings and documents filed therein. The right of access is grounded in the First Amendment and in common law, and extends to documents filed in pretrial proceedings as well as in the trial itself.
We find no principled basis for affording greater confidentiality to post-trial documents and proceedings than is given to pretrial matters. The primary justifications for access to criminal proceedings, first that criminal trials historically have been open to the press and to the public, and, second, that access to criminal trials plays a significant role in the functioning of the judicial process and the governmental system, apply with as much force to post-conviction proceedings as to the trial itself.

CBS, Inc. v. U.S. Dist. Court, 765 F.2d 823, 825 (9th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted); but see United States v. Doe, 870 F.3d 991, 997-98 (9th Cir. 2017) (distinguishing CBS as decided before “electronic filing had . . . made court documents so easily accessible” and based on the context in which ...


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