448 U.S. 555 (1980), 79-243, Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia

Docket NºNo. 79-243
Citation448 U.S. 555, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973
Party NameRichmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia
Case DateJuly 02, 1980
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 555

448 U.S. 555 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973

Richmond Newspapers, Inc.

v.

Virginia

No. 79-243

United States Supreme Court

July 2, 1980

Argued February 19, 1980

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA

Syllabus

At the commencement of a fourth trial on a murder charge (the defendant's conviction after the first trial having been reversed on appeal, and two subsequent retrials having ended in mistrials), the Virginia trial court granted defense counsel's motion that the trial be closed to the public without any objections having been made by the prosecutor or by appellants, a newspaper and two of its reporters who were present in the courtroom, defense counsel having stated that he did not "want any information being shuffled back and forth when we have a recess as to . . . who testified to what." Later that same day, however, the trial judge granted appellants' request for a hearing on a motion to vacate the closure order, and appellants' counsel contended that constitutional considerations mandated that, before ordering closure, the court should first decide that the defendant's rights could be protected in no other way. But the trial judge denied the motion, saying that, if he felt that the defendant's rights were infringed in any way and others' rights were not overridden, he was inclined to order closure, and ordered the trial to continue "with the press and public excluded." The next day, the court granted defendant's motion to strike the prosecution's evidence, excused the jury, and found the defendant not guilty. Thereafter, the court granted appellants' motion to intervene nunc pro tunc in the case, and the Virginia Supreme Court dismissed their mandamus and prohibition petitions and, finding no reversible error, denied their petition for appeal from the closure order.

Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp. 563-581; 584-598; 598-601; 601-604.

Reversed.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, joined by MR JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, concluded that the right of the public and press to attend criminal trials is guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Absent an overriding interest articulated in findings, the trial of a criminal case must be open to the public. Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368, distinguished. Pp. 563-581.

Page 556

(a) The historical evidence of the evolution of the criminal trial in Anglo-American justice demonstrates conclusively that, at the time this Nation's organic laws were adopted, criminal trials both here and in England had long been presumptively open, thus giving assurance that the proceedings were conducted fairly to all concerned and discouraging perjury, the misconduct of participants, or decisions based on secret bias or partiality. In addition, the significant community therapeutic value of public trials was recognized: when a shocking crime occurs, a community reaction of outrage and public protest often follows, and thereafter the open processes of justice serve an important prophylactic purpose, providing an outlet for community concern, hostility, and emotion. To work effectively, it is important that society's criminal process "satisfy the appearance of justice," Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 14, which can best be provided by allowing people to observe such process. From this unbroken, uncontradicted history, supported by reasons as valid today as in centuries past, it must be concluded that a presumption of openness inheres [100 S.Ct. 2817] in the very nature of a criminal trial under this Nation's system of justice. Cf., e.g., Levine v. United States, 362 U.S. 610. Pp. 563-575.

(b) The freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, expressly guaranteed by the First Amendment, share a common core purpose of assuring freedom of communication on matters relating to the functioning of government. In guaranteeing freedoms such as those of speech and press, the First Amendment can be read as protecting the right of everyone to attend trials so as to give meaning to those explicit guarantees; the First Amendment right to receive information and ideas means, in the context of trials, that the guarantees of speech and press, standing alone, prohibit government from summarily closing courtroom doors which had long been open to the public at the time the First Amendment was adopted. Moreover, the right of assembly is also relevant, having been regarded not only as an independent right, but also as a catalyst to augment the free exercise of the other First Amendment rights with which it was deliberately linked by the draftsmen. A trial courtroom is a public place where the people generally -- and representatives of the media -- have a right to be present, and where their presence historically has been thought to enhance the integrity and quality of what takes place. Pp. 575-578.

(c) Even though the Constitution contains no provision which, by its terms, guarantees to the public the right to attend criminal trials, various fundamental rights, not expressly guaranteed, have been recognized as indispensable to the enjoyment of enumerated rights. The right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment;

Page 557

without the freedom to attend such trials, which people have exercised for centuries, important aspects of freedom of speech and of the press could be eviscerated. Pp. 579-580.

(d) With respect to the closure order in this case, despite the fact that this was the accused's fourth trial, the trial judge made no findings to support closure; no inquiry was made as to whether alternative solutions would have met the need to ensure fairness; there was no recognition of any right under the Constitution for the public or press to attend the trial; and there was no suggestion that any problems with witnesses could not have been dealt with by exclusion from the courtroom or sequestration during the trial, or that sequestration of the jurors would not have guarded against their being subjected to any improper information. Pp. 580-581.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, concluded that the First Amendment -- of itself and as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment -- secures the public a right of access to trial proceedings, and that, without more, agreement of the trial judge and the parties cannot constitutionally close a trial to the public. Historically and functionally, open trials have been closely associated with the development of the fundamental procedure of trial by jury, and trial access assumes structural importance in this Nation's government of laws by assuring the public that procedural rights are respected and that justice is afforded equally, by serving as an effective restraint on possible abuse of judicial power, and by aiding the accuracy of the trial factfinding process. It was further concluded that it was not necessary to consider in this case what countervailing interests might be sufficiently compelling to reverse the presumption of openness of trials, since the Virginia statute involved -- authorizing trial closures at the unfettered discretion of the judge and parties -- violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 584-598.

MR. JUSTICE STEWART concluded that the First and Fourteenth Amendments clearly give the press and the public a right of access to trials, civil as well as criminal; that such right is not absolute, since various considerations may sometimes justify limitations upon the unrestricted presence of spectators in the courtroom; but that, in the present case, the trial judge apparently gave no recognition to the right of representatives [100 S.Ct. 2818] of the press and members of the public to be present at the trial. Pp. 598-601.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, while being of the view that Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, supra, was in error, both in its interpretation of the Sixth Amendment generally and in its application to the suppression hearing

Page 558

involved there, and that the right to a public trial is to be found in the Sixth Amendment, concluded, as a secondary position, that the First Amendment must provide some measure of protection for public access to the trial, and that here, by closing the trial, the trial judge abridged these First Amendment interests of the public. Pp. 601-604.

BURGER, C J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which WHITE and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., post, p. 581, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 582, filed concurring opinions. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 584. STEWART, J., post, p. 598, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 601, filed opinions concurring in the judgment. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 604. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS joined.

The narrow question presented in this case is whether the right of the public and press to attend criminal trials is guaranteed under the United States Constitution.

Page 559

I

In March, 1976, one Stevenson was indicted for the murder of a hotel manager who had been found stabbed to death on December 2, 1975. Tried promptly in July, 1976, Stevenson was convicted of second-degree murder in the Circuit Court of Hanover County, Va. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed the conviction in October, 1977, holding that a bloodstained shirt purportedly belonging to Stevenson had been improperly admitted into evidence. Stevenson v. Commonwealth, 218 Va. 462, 237 S.E.2d 779.

Stevenson was retried in the same court. This second trial ended in a mistrial on May 30, 1978, when a juror asked to be excused after trial had begun and no alternate was available.1

A third trial, which began in the same court on June 6,...

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1686 practice notes
  • 124 F.Supp.2d 698 (S.D.Fla. 2000), 98-0721, United States v. Hernandez
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • December 18, 2000
    ...Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 102 S.Ct. 2613, 2618-19, 73 L.Ed.2d 248 (1982); Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 579-80, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980) (plurality)). 1 As the Eleventh Circuit has opined, "open proceedings may be imperative if t......
  • 204 F.R.D. 410 (S.D.Ind. 2001), IP 01-0838-C-T/K, Star Scientific, Inc. v. Carter
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • November 15, 2001
    ...and the media a Constitutional right of access to criminal and civil court proceedings. See e.g. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980); Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court for County of Norfolk, 457 U.S. 596, 603, 102 S.Ct. 2613, 73 L.E......
  • 624 F.Supp.2d 27 (D.D.C. 2009), C. A. 02-cv-0828, In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litigation
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 1, 2009
    ...Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment guarantees the public a right of access to criminal trials. 448 U.S. 555, 580, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980). Though the question of access to civil trials was not raised in the case, the Court noted "......
  • 631 F.Supp. 1515 (W.D.Mich. 1986), G 84-1405, Falk v. State Bar of Michigan
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • April 10, 1986
    ...and regulations and not challenges to lawless exercise of authority under state statutes and rules. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 562-63 n. 4, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 2819-20 n. 4, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980) (Burger, C.J., plurality opinion). Consequently, plaintiff improperly bro......
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1544 cases
  • 124 F.Supp.2d 698 (S.D.Fla. 2000), 98-0721, United States v. Hernandez
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 11th Circuit United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • December 18, 2000
    ...Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 102 S.Ct. 2613, 2618-19, 73 L.Ed.2d 248 (1982); Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 579-80, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980) (plurality)). 1 As the Eleventh Circuit has opined, "open proceedings may be imperative if t......
  • 204 F.R.D. 410 (S.D.Ind. 2001), IP 01-0838-C-T/K, Star Scientific, Inc. v. Carter
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 7th Circuit United States District Court (Southern District of Indiana)
    • November 15, 2001
    ...and the media a Constitutional right of access to criminal and civil court proceedings. See e.g. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980); Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court for County of Norfolk, 457 U.S. 596, 603, 102 S.Ct. 2613, 73 L.E......
  • 624 F.Supp.2d 27 (D.D.C. 2009), C. A. 02-cv-0828, In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litigation
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts United States District Court (Columbia)
    • June 1, 2009
    ...Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment guarantees the public a right of access to criminal trials. 448 U.S. 555, 580, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980). Though the question of access to civil trials was not raised in the case, the Court noted "......
  • 631 F.Supp. 1515 (W.D.Mich. 1986), G 84-1405, Falk v. State Bar of Michigan
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
    • April 10, 1986
    ...and regulations and not challenges to lawless exercise of authority under state statutes and rules. Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 562-63 n. 4, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 2819-20 n. 4, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980) (Burger, C.J., plurality opinion). Consequently, plaintiff improperly bro......
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8 firm's commentaries
  • Preserving Trade Secrets at District Court Hearings and Trials
    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • March 12, 2021
    ...Stamicarbon, N.V. v. Am. Cyanamid Co., 506 F.2d 532, 539–42 (2d Cir. 1974)). [7] See also, e.g., Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 600 n.5 (1980) (“The preservation of trade secrets, for example, might justify the exclusion of the public from at least some segments of a c......
  • Confidential Court of Chancery Arbitration Proceedings Found Unconstitutional — Violate Qualified Right of Access
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    • LexBlog United States
    • August 31, 2012
    ...the First Amendment protects the public’s ability to attend criminal judicial proceedings. See, Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 (1980). The Supreme Court has never addressed the issue of whether the public has a right to attend civil proceedings, but every Court of ......
  • Publicity: The US Perspective
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • March 21, 2018
    ...of Stephen Weiss, an associate in Cadwalader's Washington, DC, office to this chapter. 2 Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 575-81 (1980) (holding that the right of the public and the press to attend criminal trials is guaranteed under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, ......
  • Reporter’s Notebook: News Media Protests White House Photo Ban
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    • LexBlog United States
    • December 1, 2013
    ...from abridgment of their rights of access to information about the operation of their government,” Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 584 (1980). The fact that there is no access whatsoever only heightens those concerns. As one court has noted in considering a similar restr......
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125 books & journal articles
  • Nonparty remote electronic access to plea agreements in the Second Circuit.
    • United States
    • Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 35 Nbr. 5, October 2008
    • October 1, 2008
    ...(Press Enter. I), 464 U.S. 501 (1984); Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596 (1982); Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980). (133.) Press-Enter. II, 478 U.S. at 27 (quoting Richmond Newspapers, 448 U.S. at 589). (134.) Id. at 8. (135.) See, e.g., Hartford C......
  • Ab(ju)dication: how procedure defeats civil liberties in the "War on Terror".
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    • Suffolk University Law Review Vol. 50 Nbr. 1, January - January 2017
    • January 1, 2017
    ...303 F.3d 681, 683 (6th Cir. 2002) (holding open deportation proceeding presumptively required by First Amendment). (128.) Id. (129.) 448 U.S. 555 (1980). The two opinions were not completely conflicting, as the Sixth Circuit relied on the facts of the particular case before it in reaching i......
  • The star-spangled chamber: the venire's role in satisfying the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
    • United States
    • Suffolk University Law Review Vol. 46 Nbr. 2, March 2013
    • March 22, 2013
    ...held that the press and public have a right to attend criminal trials under the First Amendment, not the Sixth, in certain instances. 448 U.S. 555, 575-80 (1980). See generally Daniel Levitas, Comments, Scaling Waller: How Courts Have Eroded the Sixth Amendment Public Trial Right, 59 EMORY ......
  • Probable Cause Affidavits Open in Kansas, 0515 KSBJ, 84 J. Kan. Bar Assn 5, 21 (2015)
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    • Kansas Bar Journal Nbr. 2015, January 2015
    • January 1, 2015
    ...and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents."); Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 573 (1980) ("We are bound to conclude that a presumption of openness inheres in the very nature of a criminal trial under our......
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2 provisions
  • Manual for Courts-Martial; Proposed Amendments
    • United States
    • Federal Register March 14, 2012
    • March 14, 2012
    ...amendment to access to criminal trials. United States v. Hershey, 20 M.J. 433 (C.M.A. 1985) citing Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980). The test that must be met before closure of a criminal trial to the public is set out in Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464......
  • Manual for Courts-Martial; Proposed Evidence Amendments:
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    • Federal Register October 19, 2011
    • October 12, 2011
    ...amendment to access to criminal trials. United States v. Hershey, 20 M.J. 433 (C.M.A. 1985) citing Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980). The test that must be met before closure of a criminal trial to the public is set out in Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464......