Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant requested the court that his murder trial be closed to the public. The prosecutor did not object. The jury found the defendant not guilty.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Although theSixth Amendment guarantees the accused a right to a public trial, it does not give a right to a private trial.
We have found nothing to suggest that the presumptive openness of the trial, which English courts were later to call one of the essential qualities of a court of justice, was not also an attribute of the judicial systems of colonial America.View Full Point of Law
The precise issue of whether the right of the public and press to attend criminal trials is guaranteed under the Constitution has not been previously presented to the Court. In Gannet Co., Inc. v. DePasquale, the Court was not required to decide whether a right of access to trials was constitutionally guaranteed. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to the accused of a public trial gave neither the public nor the press an enforceable right of access to a pretrial suppression hearing.
Is the right of the public and press to attend criminal trials guaranteed under the Constitution?
No, although the Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused a right to a public trial, it does not give a right to a private trial. Despite the fact that this was the fourth trial of the accused, the trial judge made no findings to support closure; no inquiry was made as to whether alternative solutions would have met the need to ensure fairness.
The right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment; without the freedom to attend such trials, which people have exercised for centuries, important aspects of freedom of speech and of the press could be eviscerated. However, there was no recognition of any right under the Constitution for the public or press to attend the trial. In contrast to the pretrial proceeding dealt with in Gannet, there exist in the context of the trial itself various tested alternatives to satisfy the constitutional demands of fairness. There was no suggestion that any problems with witnesses would not have been dealt with by their exclusion from the courtroom or their sequestration during the trial. Nor is there any indication that sequestration of the juror would not have guarded against their being subjected to any improper information. All the alternatives admittedly present difficulties for trial courts, but none of the factors relied here was beyond the realm of the manageable.