Free Press v. Fair Trial: Supreme Court Decisions since 1807

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview
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Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court

Globe Newspaper Company v. Superior Court for the County of Norfolk Docket No. 81-611 457 U.S. 596, 73 L.Ed.2d 248, 102 S.Ct. 2613 ( 1982)

Argued March 29, 1982. Decided June 23, 1982.


Background

Section 16A, Chapter 278, of Massachusetts General Laws reads in part as follows:

"At the trial of a complaint or indictment for rape, incest, carnal abuse or other crime involving sex, where a minor under eighteen years of age is the person upon, with or against whom the crime is alleged to have been committed, . . . the presiding justice shall exclude the general public from the court room." (598)

The constitutionality of this section depends to a considerable degree upon its scope. A too-broad law, for example, could be thought to infringe upon First Amendment rights articulated in Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia ( 1980). Since Richmond recognized a limited or qualified First Amendment right of the public to attend criminal trials, the Court looked at the Massachusetts statute to determine if it put forth a special interest that, because of its strong importance in a narrow area, would justify overriding in particular circumstances the public's right to attend a trial.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court asserted there did exist in the statute a sufficiently narrow interest so important that it constitutionally justified overriding the public's interest in attending a trial. This court construed the law to require the exclusion of the press and public from the courtroom during the testimony of a minor victim of a sexual crime even over the opposition of the defendant, and even in the absence of a request for exclusion by the prosecution or the victim. The question the Court sought to answer, therefore, is whether this law as interpreted by the Massachusetts court is constitutional. In other words, does a statute requiring closure of criminal trials during testimony of a minor victim of a sexual crime transgress implicit First Amendment guarantees of access?

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