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

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview
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Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court

Press-Enterprise Company v. Superior Court of California, Riverside County Docket No. 82-556 464 U.S. 501, 78 L.Ed.2d 629, 104 S.Ct. 819 ( 1984) Argued October 12, 1983. Decided January 18, 1984.


Background

Although Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia ( 1980) ruled that the public, and so the press, did indeed hold a First Amendment right to attend criminal trials, a California judge later excluded the press from much of the time devoted to questioning prospective jurors in a criminal trial. In addition, the judge then refused to release the transcript of this voir dire.

These actions raise some important questions related to defining the chronological boundaries of a trial. When does a trial begin? Does it begin when a fully constituted jury enters the courtroom to hear testimony or when the first prospective juror is asked a question? Does it begin at another point between these two events? Are the often-numerous pretrial proceedings in actuality part of the trial itself? Answers to these questions are important considerations when determining how much access the press has to a trial. The Court ruled in Wade v. Hunter ( 1949) that for purposes of double jeopardy, a trial begins when the first witness is sworn, and in Downum v. U.S. ( 1963) it ruled the trial begins when the jurors are sworn. Nevertheless, these two cases, the Court said in a footnote, are not directly relevant to defining the extent of First Amendment interests in open trials.

Another set of questions is raised by the conflict between an asserted right of privacy for jurors on the one hand and the right of the public to know what transpires in open court on the other. The Press-Enterprise Company argued that, if a juror's right of privacy actually exists and if the state has a legitimate concern to protect that interest, then any rule or procedure, according to Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court ( 1982), must be "narrowly tailored" to serve that interest. In other words, the entire questioning of prospective jurors does not have to be closed in order to preserve the privacy of answers to questions about a particularly sensitive issue, such as attitudes toward the death penalty. The company also asserted that closing

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