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Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia

Law Dictionary
CASE BRIEFS

Law Dictionary

Featuring Black's Law Dictionary 2nd Ed.
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Constitutional Law Keyed to Stone

Citation. 448 U.S. 555, 100 S. Ct. 2814, 65 L. Ed. 2d 973, 1980 U.S. 18.

Brief Fact Summary. The Appellant, Richmond Newspapers (Appellant), moves to have a judicial order for closure of a criminal trial to the press and the public overturned as a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees both the public and the press a right to attend criminal trials. However, this right is not absolute and may be outweighed where the judge finds an overriding interest that cannot be accommodated by less restrictive means.


Facts. A criminal on trial, Stevenson, moved to have the proceeding closed to the public. Neither the prosecutor nor anyone else present, including two reporters, objected to the motion. The judge, acting pursuant to a state statute, authorizing the court in its discretion to exclude from the trial any persons whose presence would impair the conduct of a fair trial, ordered the courtroom be kept clear of all parties, except the witnesses when they testified. Later that day, the Appellant moved to vacate the closure order. In defense of the order, Stevenson argued that he did not want information to be leaked out, be published by the media and then be seen by jurors. The trial court denied the motion to vacate the order, stating that people in the courtroom are districting. The trial court ordered the trial to continue with the public and the press excluded.

Issue. Whether an order excluding public and press from a criminal trial violated their rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution?

Held. Reversed. The right of the public and press to attend criminal trials is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution. This right is not absolute and the trial judge can order the trial closed to the public and press by finding an overriding interest that cannot be overcome by less restrictive means. In this case the judge failed to show an overriding interest for excluding the public and press, thus, the decision to close the courtroom was reversed.

Dissent. The Constitution does not require that a State’s reasons for denying public access to a trial, where both the prosecuting attorney and the defendant have consented to an order of closure approved by the judge, are subject to any additional constitutional review.
Concurrence. The First Amendment of the Constitution gives a right to member of the public and representatives of the press to attend civil and criminal trial, but this right is not absolute. Just as a legislature may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions upon the First Amendment freedoms, so may a trial judge impose reasonable limitations upon the unrestricted occupations of a courtroom.

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Discussion. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees both the public and the press a right to attend criminal trials. However, this right is not absolute and may be outweighed where the judge finds an overriding interest that cannot be accommodated by less restrictive means.

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