Gannett Co., Inc. v. Daniel A. DePasquale, et al. Docket No. 77-1301 433 U.S. 368, 61 L.Ed.2d 608, 99 S.Ct. 2898 ( 1979)
Argued November 7, 1978. Decided July 2, 1979.
After Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart ( 1976), trial courts were aware of the severe limitations imposed upon their authority to forbid the press from publishing information that might be prejudicial to a defendant. It is not surprising, therefore, that another tactic for guaranteeing an impartial jury emerged. If it was going to be extremely difficult to prevent the media from disseminating potentially prejudicial information, then wily not simply prevent them from getting the information in the first place? The media cannot disseminate information they do not have.
Denying the press access to information available in trials or closely related pretrial hearings, however, raises First, Sixth, and, in the case of a state court, Fourteenth Amendment questions. One question is whether the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial includes public access to related pretrial maneuvers. Another is whether this right is limited only to the accused or whether it includes the general citizenry. Does the accused's right to a public trial mean that defendants can compel a closed trial? A fourth question is whether the First Amendment guarantees public access to trials, and, if so, a fifth question arises over whether the Fourteenth Amendment extends such a right of access to criminal trials in state courts.
Since the Gannett Court ruled the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial is personal to the accused and so does not include the general citizenry, and since it refused to consider First Amendment rights of public access to criminal trials, it saw no need to address the issue of what, if any, closely related pretrial maneuvers were included in the definition of a trial; the Court held that "members of the public have no constitutional right under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to attend criminal trials" (391). Nevertheless, the Court also denied defendants a right to compel a private trial because it said common law recognizes strong societal interests in public trials.