Conditions of Exception to the Rule of Sequestration

In Gore v. State, 599 So.2d 978, 985-86 (Fla. 1992), the defendant argued that the trial court erred in excusing the murder victim's stepmother from the rule of sequestration solely because she was a relative of the victim. See 599 So.2d at 985. After reciting the language set forth in article I, section 16(b), the court stated: This provision does not provide an automatic exception to the rule of sequestration. While in general relatives of homicide victims have the right to be present at trial, this right must yield to the defendant's right to a fair trial. The rule of witness sequestration is designed to help ensure a fair trial by avoiding "the coloring of a witness's testimony by that which he has heard from other witnesses who have preceded him on the stand." Spencer v. State, 133 So.2d 729, 731 (Fla. 1961), cert. denied, 369 U.S. 880, 82 S.Ct. 1155, 8 L.Ed.2d 283 (1962), and cert. denied, 372 U.S. 904, 83 S.Ct. 742, 9 L.Ed.2d 730 (1963). However, a defendant does not have an absolute right to exclude witnesses from the courtroom. "The trial judge is endowed with a sound judicial discretion to decide whether particular prospective witnesses should be excluded from the sequestration rule." Randolph v. State, 463 So.2d 186, 191 (Fla. 1984), cert. denied, 473 U.S. 907, 105 S.Ct. 3533, 87 L.Ed.2d 656 (1985). Of course, should the witness' presence cause some prejudice to the accused, the witness should not be allowed to remain in the courtroom. Where the rule has been invoked, a hearing should be conducted to determine whether a witness' exclusion from the rule will result in prejudice to the accused. 463 So.2d at 192. Similarly, in Farina v. State, 680 So.2d 392, 395 (Fla. 1996), the court determined that the defendant failed to establish that he was prejudiced by the presence of surviving victims and their families in the courtroom, see 680 So.2d at 395, while in Sireci v. State, 587 So.2d 450, 454 (Fla. 1991), we determined that the trial court correctly allowed the homicide victim's wife and son to remain in the courtroom after they had testified. See 587 So.2d at 454.