464 U.S. 501 (1984), 82-556, Press-enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California, Riverside County

Docket Nº:No. 82-556.
Citation:464 U.S. 501, 104 S.Ct. 819, 78 L.Ed.2d 629
Party Name:PRESS-ENTERPRISE COMPANY, Petitioner v. SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE COUNTY.
Case Date:January 18, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 501

464 U.S. 501 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 819, 78 L.Ed.2d 629

PRESS-ENTERPRISE COMPANY, Petitioner

v.

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE COUNTY.

No. 82-556.

United States Supreme Court.

Jan. 18, 1984

Argued Oct. 12, 1983.

[104 S.Ct. 819] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

Before the voir dire examination of prospective jurors began at a trial in California Superior Court for the rape and murder of a teenage girl, petitioner moved that the voir dire be open to the public and the press. The State opposed the motion, arguing that if the press were present, juror responses would lack the candor necessary to assure a fair trial. The trial judge agreed and permitted petitioner to attend the "general" but not the "individual" voir dire proceedings. All but approximately three days of the 6-week voir dire was thus closed to the public. After the jury was empaneled, petitioner moved for release of the complete transcript of the voir dire proceedings, but both defense counsel and the prosecutor argued that release of the transcript would violate the jurors' right to privacy. The court denied the motion and, after the defendant had been convicted and sentenced to death, denied petitioner's second application for release of the voir dire transcript. Petitioner then sought in the California Court of Appeal a writ of mandate to compel the trial court to release the transcript and vacate the order closing the voir dire proceedings. The petition was denied, and the California Supreme Court denied petitioner's request for a hearing.

Held:

1. The guarantees of open public proceedings in criminal trials cover proceedings [104 S.Ct. 820] for the voir dire examination of potential jurors. Pp. 821 - 824.

(a) The historical evidence reveals that the process of selection of jurors has presumptively been a public process with exceptions only for good cause shown. The presumptive openness of the jury selection process in England carried over into proceedings in colonial America, and public jury selection was the common practice in America when the Constitution was adopted. Pp. 821- - 823.

(b) Openness enhances both the basic fairness of the criminal trial and the appearance of fairness so essential to public confidence in the criminal justice system. Public proceedings vindicate the concerns of the victims and the community in knowing that offenders are being brought to account for their criminal conduct by jurors fairly and openly selected. Closed proceedings, although not absolutely precluded, must be rare and only for cause shown that outweighs the value of openness.

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The presumption of openness may be overcome only by an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. Pp. 823 - 824.

2. The presumption of openness has not been rebutted in this case. There were no findings to support the trial court's conclusion that an open proceeding would threaten the defendant's right to a fair trial and the prospective jurors' interests in privacy. Even with findings adequate to support closure, the court's orders denying access to the voir dire transcript failed to consider whether alternatives were available to protect the prospective jurors' interests. To preserve fairness and at the same time protect legitimate privacy, a trial judge should inform the prospective jurors, once the general nature of sensitive questions is made known to them, that those individuals believing public questioning will prove damaging because of embarrassment, may properly request an opportunity to present the problem to the judge in camera but with counsel present and on the record. When limited closure is ordered, the constitutional values sought to be protected by holding open proceedings may be satisfied later by making a transcript of the closed proceedings available within a reasonable time, if the judge determines that disclosure can be accomplished while safeguarding the juror's valid privacy interests. Even then a valid privacy interest may rise to a level that part of the transcript should be sealed, or the name of a juror withheld, to protect the person from embarrassment. Pp. 824 - 826.

Vacated and remanded.

COUNSEL

James D. Ward argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs wasJohn A. Boyd.

Glenn Robert Salter argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Gerald J. Geerlings and Joyce Ellen Manulis Reikes.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, et al. by Bruce W. Sanford, W. Terry Maguire, Pamela J. Riley, Richard M. Schmidt, Jr., Donald F. Luke, Robert C. Lobdell, Robert S. Warren, Erwin G. Krasnow, Mark L. Tuft, and Boisfuillet Jones, Jr.; and for USA Today et al. by John E. Carne, Judith R. Epstein, Alice Neff Lucan, Edward J. McIntyre, Douglas T. Foster, and Michael B. Dorais.

A brief of amicus curiae urging affirmance was filed by Joseph Peter Myers, pro se.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the California State Public Defender byQuin Denvir, Michael G. Millman, and Joseph Levine; and for the State of California by John K. Van De Kamp, Attorney General, Harley D. Mayfield, Assistant Attorney General, and Keith I. Motley, Deputy Attorney General.

James D. Ward, Riverside, Cal., for petitioner.

Glenn Robert Salter, Riverside, Cal., for respondent.

OPINION

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Chief Justice BURGER delivered the opinion of the court.

We granted certiorari to decide whether the guarantees of open public proceedings in criminal trials cover proceedings for the voir dire examination of potential jurors.

I

Albert Greenwood Brown, Jr., was tried and convicted of the rape and murder of a teenage girl, and sentenced to death in California Superior Court. Before the voir dire examination of prospective jurors began, petitioner, Press-Enterprise Co., moved that the voir dire be open to the public and the press. Petitioner contended that the public had an absolute right to attend the trial, and asserted that the trial commenced with the voir dire proceedings. The State opposed petitioner's motion, arguing that if the press were present, juror responses would lack the candor necessary to assure a fair trial.

The trial judge agreed and permitted petitioner to attend only the "general voir dire." He stated that counsel would conduct the "individual voir dire with regard to death qualifications and any other special areas that counsel may feel some problem with regard to ... in private...." App. 93. The voir dire consumed six [104 S.Ct. 821] weeks and all but approximately three days was closed to the public.

After the jury was empaneled, petitioner moved the trial court to release a complete transcript of the voir dire proceedings. At oral argument on the motion, the trial judge

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described the responses of prospective jurors at their voir dire:

"Most of them are of little moment. There are a few, however, in which some personal problems were discussed which could be somewhat sensitive as far as publication of those particular individual's situations are concerned." App. 103.

Counsel for Brown argued that release of the transcript would violate the jurors' right of privacy. The prosecutor agreed, adding that the prospective jurors had answered questions under an "implied promise of confidentiality." App. 111. The court denied petitioner's motion, concluding as follows:

"I agree with much of what defense counsel and People's counsel have said and I also, regardless of the public's right to know, I also feel that's rather difficult that by a person performing their civic duty as a prospective juror putting their private information as open to the public which I just think there is certain areas that the right of privacy should prevail and a right to a fair trial should prevail and the right of the people to know, I think should have some limitations, so at this stage, the motion to open up the individual sequestered voir dire proceedings is denied without prejudice." App. 121.

After Brown had been convicted and sentenced to death, petitioner again applied for release of the transcript. In denying this application, the judge stated:

"The jurors were questioned in private relating to past experiences, and while most of the information is dull and boring, some of the jurors had some special experiences in sensitive areas that do not appear to be appropriate for public discussion." App. 39.

Petitioner then sought in the California Court of Appeal a writ of mandate to compel the Superior Court to release the

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transcript and vacate the order closing the voir dire proceedings. The petition was denied. The California Supreme Court denied petitioner's request for a hearing. We granted certiorari. --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 813, 74 L.Ed.2d 1012 (1983). We reverse.

II

The trial of a criminal case places the factfinding function in a jury of twelve unless by statute or consent the jury is fixed at a lesser number or a jury is waived. The process of juror selection is itself a matter of importance, not simply to the adversaries but to the criminal justice system. In Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 569, 100 S.Ct. 2814, 2823, 65 L.Ed.2d 973 (1980), the plurality opinion summarized the evolution of the criminal trial as we know it today and concluded that "at the time when our organic laws were adopted, criminal trials both here and in England had long been presumptively open." A review of the historical evidence is also helpful for present purposes. It reveals that, since the development of...

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