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Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia

    Brief Fact Summary. A courtroom was closed to the press during a murder trial.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Criminal trials must be open to the public unless there is a persuasive, articulated interest in closing them.

    Facts. A murder suspect was tried four times in the same court. At the beginning of the fourth trial, the counsel for the defense asked that the press be removed from the courtroom. The prosecution voiced no objection and left it to the discretion of the court. The trial was then ordered closed to the public.

    Issue. Is the right of public and press access to criminal trials guaranteed?

    Held. Yes. This right is guaranteed by the First Amendment as an important aspect of freedom of speech.

    Dissent. There is no provision of the United States Constitution that prohibits the closing of a trial when all parties agree to such action.
    Concurrence. Because there is a grand tradition of public trials, clearly the United States Constitution meant to maintain and protect that practice.

    Discussion. Historically, criminal trials have been open to the public. It ensures that proceedings are fair and not prejudiced by partiality. It also allows the community to heal by proving an outlet for “concern, hostility, and emotion.” The right to speak about trials would be quashed if arbitrary courtroom closures were allowed to occur. The right of public attendance of a trial is not enumerated by the Constitution but it is, nonetheless, recognized as a First Amendment right.


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