In this case a criminal defendant had been tried unsuccessfully three times for murder. He was convicted at his first trial but the conviction was overturned by an appellate court; the subsequent two trials ended in mistrials. At his fourth trial, the defendant’s attorney made a motion to close the trial to the public and the prosecutor did not object. Consequently, the judge closed the trial and denied the Richmond Newspapers, Inc.’s motion that the trial be open.
The issue for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide in this case was whether the public and the press have a constitutional right to attend criminal trials. By a seven-to-one majority (Justice Lewis Powell did not participate), the Court held that there was a First Amendment right of the public and the press to attend a criminal trial ‘‘absent an overriding interest articulated in findings.’’ Although six of the seven justices in the majority wrote opinions, all agreed that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right of the public and the press to attend a criminal trial and that this right may be restricted only if the interest in closing a trial is a compelling one. Not only were open proceedings long ‘‘recognized as an indispensable attribute of an Anglo-American trial,’’ they were also necessary in order to ensure the integrity of the judicial process. All seven justices additionally agreed that there was no overriding interest that justified closing the trial in this case.
The Richmond Newspapers case has become a significant precedent in subsequent cases in which legislatures or judges attempted to close portions of trial and pretrial proceedings.
MICHAEL W. BOWERS
References and Further Reading
See also Cameras in the Courtroom; Freedom of the Press: Modern Period (1917–Present); Free Press/Fair Trial; Freedom of Speech and Press: Nineteenth Century; Press Clause (I): Framing and History from Colonial Period up to Early National Period; Rights of the Accused