381 U.S. 532 (1965), 256, Estes v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 256
Citation:381 U.S. 532, 85 S.Ct. 1628, 14 L.Ed.2d 543
Party Name:Estes v. Texas
Case Date:June 07, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 532

381 U.S. 532 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 1628, 14 L.Ed.2d 543




No. 256

United States Supreme Court

June 7, 1965

Argued April 1, 1965



Petitioner had been indicted by a Texas county grand jury for swindling. Massive pretrial publicity had given the case national notoriety. On the trial date, following a change of venue, a hearing commenced on petitioner's motion to prevent telecasting, radio broadcasting, and news photography. The hearing, conducted in the presence of some trial witnesses and veniremen later released, was carried live on television and radio, and news photography was permitted. The original jury panel, petitioner, counsel, and the trial judge were highly publicized during the two days the pretrial hearing lasted, emphasizing throughout the community the notorious character that the trial would take. Four of the jurors selected later at the trial had seen or heard all or part of the broadcasts. The profusion of cameramen with their equipment in various parts of the crowded courtroom caused considerable disruption. The trial court denied petitioner's motion, but granted a continuance of almost a month. During the interim, a booth was erected in the rear of the courtroom to which television cameramen and equipment were restricted. Live telecasting was prohibited during most of the actual trial. The State's opening and closing arguments were carried live with sound (though, because of mechanical difficulty, there was no picture of the former), as were the return of the jury's verdict and its receipt by the judge. The court's order allowed videotapes without sound of the whole proceeding, and the cameras operated intermittently during the three-day trial, which ended with petitioner's conviction. Film clips of the trial were shown, largely on regularly scheduled news programs. Both the trial court and the appellate court rejected petitioner's claim of denial of due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by the televising and broadcasting of the trial.

Held: The televising over petitioner's objections of the courtroom proceedings of petitioner's criminal trial, in which there was widespread public interest, was inherently invalid as infringing the fundamental right to a fair trial guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 536-552.

(a) The high degree of publicity given to the two-day hearing, which could only have impressed those present and the community

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at large with the notorious character of the petitioner and the proceeding, made what occurred at the pretrial relevant to determining whether petitioner was accorded due process at his trial. Pp. 536-537.

(b) The constitutional guarantee of a public trial is to ensure that the accused is fairly dealt with, and not unjustly condemned. Pp. 538-539.

(c) The freedom granted to the press under the First Amendment must be subject to the maintenance of absolute fairness in the judicial process, and, in the present state of television techniques such freedom does not confer the right to use equipment in the courtroom which might jeopardize a fair trial, the atmosphere for which must be preserved at all costs. Pp. 539-540.

(d) The public's right to be informed about court proceedings is satisfied if reporters are free to attend and to report on the proceedings through their respective media. Pp. 541-542.

(e) Where, as here, the procedure employed by the State involves the probability that prejudice to the accused will result, that procedure, in line with the principle established in such cases as Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, will be deemed lacking in due process whether or not isolatable prejudice can be demonstrated. Pp. 542-544.

(f) There are numerous respects in which televising court proceedings may alone, and in combination almost certainly will, cause unfairness, such as: (1) improperly influencing jurors by emphasizing the notoriety of the trial and affecting their impartial judgment, distracting their attention, facilitating (in States which do not sequester jurors) their viewing of selected parts of the proceedings, and improperly influencing potential jurors, and thus jeopardizing the fairness of new trials; (2) impairing the testimony of witnesses, as by causing some to be frightened and others to overstate their testimony, and generally influencing the testimony of witnesses, thus frustrating invocation of the "rule" against witnesses; (3) distracting judges generally and exercising an adverse psychological effect, particularly upon those who are elected; and (4) imposing pressures upon the defendant and intruding into the confidential attorney-client relationship. Pp. 544-550.

(g) The foregoing factors are not merely "hypothetical," as is evidenced by the bar on television in federal criminal trials imposed by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and by such a bar in all but two States. P. 550.

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(h) Application of the rule of the Rideau case, supra, is clearly warranted by the facts of this case. Pp. 550-552.


CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court. *

The question presented here is whether the petitioner, who stands convicted in the District Court for the Seventh Judicial District of Texas at Tyler for swindling,1 was

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deprived of his [85 S.Ct. 1629] right under the Fourteenth Amendment to due process by the televising and broadcasting of his trial. Both the trial court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found against the petitioner. We hold to the contrary, and reverse his conviction.


While petitioner recites his claim in the framework of Canon 35 of the Judicial Canons of the American Bar Association, he does not contend that we should enshrine Canon 35 in the Fourteenth Amendment, but only that the time-honored principles of a fair trial were not followed in his case, and that he was thus convicted without due process of law. Canon 35, of course, has of itself no binding effect on the courts, but merely expresses the view of the Association in opposition to the broadcasting, televising and photographing of court proceedings. Likewise, Judicial Canon 28 of the Integrated State Bar of Texas, 27 Tex.B.J. 102 (1964), which leaves to the trial judge's sound discretion the telecasting and photographing of court proceedings, is, of itself, not law. In short, the question here is not the validity of either Canon 35 of the American Bar Association or Canon 28 of the State Bar of Texas, but only whether petitioner was tried in a manner which comports with the due process requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Petitioner's case was originally called for trial on September 24, 1962, in Smith County after a change of venue from Reeves County, some 500 miles west. Massive pretrial publicity totaling 11 volumes of press clippings, which are on file with the Clerk, had given it national notoriety. All available seats in the courtroom were taken, and some 30 persons stood in the aisles. However at that time, a defense motion to prevent telecasting, broadcasting by radio, and news photography, and a defense motion for continuance were presented, and, after a two-day hearing, the former was denied and the latter granted.

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These initial hearings were carried live by both radio and television, and news photography was permitted throughout. The videotapes of these hearings clearly illustrate that the picture presented was not one of that judicial serenity and calm to which petitioner was entitled. Cf. Wood v. Georgia, 370 U.S. 375, 383 (1962); Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 472 (1965); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 562 (1965). Indeed at least 12 cameramen were engaged in the courtroom throughout the hearing taking motion and still pictures and televising the proceedings. Cables and wires were snaked across the courtroom floor, three microphones were on the judge's bench, and others were beamed at the jury box and the counsel table. It is conceded that the activities of the television crews and news photographers led to considerable disruption of the hearings. Moreover, veniremen had been summoned, and were present in the courtroom during the entire hearing, but were later released after petitioner's motion for continuance had been granted. The court also had the names of the witnesses called; some answered, but the absence of others led to a continuance of the case until October 22, 1962. It is contended that this two-day pretrial hearing cannot be considered in determining the question before us. We cannot agree. Pretrial can create a major problem for the defendant in a criminal case. Indeed, it may be more harmful than publicity during the trial, for it may well set the community opinion as to guilt or innocence. Though the September hearings dealt with motions to prohibit television coverage and to postpone the trial, they are unquestionably relevant to the issue before us. All of this two-day affair was highly publicized, and could only have impressed those present, and also the community [85 S.Ct. 1630] at large, with the notorious character of the petitioner, as well as the proceeding. The trial witnesses present at the hearing, as well as the original jury panel, were undoubtedly

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made aware of the peculiar public importance of the case by the press and television coverage being provided and by the fact that they themselves were televised live, and their pictures rebroadcast on the evening show.

When the case was called for trial on October 22, the scene had been altered. A booth had been constructed at the back of the courtroom which was painted to blend with the permanent structure of the room. It had an aperture to allow the lens of the cameras an unrestricted view of the courtroom. All television cameras and newsreel photographers were restricted to...

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