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 for the County of Riverside Docket No. 84-1560 478 U.S. 1, 92 L.Ed.2d 1, 106 S.Ct. 2735 ( 1986) Argued February 26, 1986. Decided June 30, 1986.


Background

The Court comes full circle with this case. Questions focusing on the openness of trials and trial-related proceedings were first addressed specifically in Gannett v. DePasquale ( 1979). The Court ruled there that the public and so the press have no Sixth Amendment right to attend pretrial hearings. The Sixth Amendment, according to the Court, is personal to the accused.

Then in Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia ( 1980), the Court ruled that the public and so also the press do have, however, a First Amendment right to attend trials, provided there is no constitutionally valid specific evidence presented asserting an overriding interest. Later, in Press-Entcrprisc Co. v. Superior Court ( 1984), the Court said the public and therefore the press, absent other overriding interests, also have a First Amendment right to attend the voir dire of prospective jurors. In the present case the Court extends that First Amendment right to all pretrial hearings.

The heart of the issue in both Press-Enterprise cases is defining what events associated with a trial are covered by implicit First Amendment rights guaranteeing access to public information. In the first Press-Enterprise case ( 1984) the First Amendment rights of access to public information were extended to the questioning of jurors. In the second ( 1986) these rights are extended to pretrial hearings. Some journalists are seeking to extend these rights to the very beginning of what they assert might broadly be called the trial process, including access to reports of arrests written by police officers.

The right asserted to support closed hearings in the first Press-Enterprise case was the privacy of jurors, a right not specifically mentioned in the Constitution; the right in this case -- to a fair trial -- is fundamental and can be found stated explicitly in the Sixth Amendment.

Therefore, in opposition to the newspaper company, the Court asserted that, while there may be some procedural similarities between a trial and a

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