Company v., PRESS-ENTERPRISE

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBURGER
Citation464 U.S. 501,78 L.Ed.2d 629,104 S.Ct. 819
Decision Date18 January 1984
Docket NumberPRESS-ENTERPRISE,No. 82-556
PartiesCOMPANY, Petitioner v.

464 U.S. 501
104 S.Ct. 819
78 L.Ed.2d 629
PRESS-ENTERPRISE COMPANY, Petitioner

v.

SUPERIOR COURT OF CALIFORNIA, RIVERSIDE COUNTY.

No. 82-556.
Argued Oct. 12, 1983.
Decided Jan. 18, 1984.
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 for the voir dire examination of potential jurors. Pp. 505-510.

(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. 505-508.

(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.

Page 502

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. 508-510.

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. 510-513.

Vacated and remanded.

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

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

Page 503

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 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

Page 504

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

Page 505

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 trial by jury, the process of selection of jurors has presumptively been a public process with exceptions only for good cause shown.

A.

The roots of open trials reach back to the days before the Norman Conquest when cases in England were brought before "moots" a town meeting kind of body such as the local court of the hundred or the county court.1 Attendance was virtually compulsory on the part of the freemen of the community, who represented the "patria," or the "country," in rendering judgment. The public aspect thus was "almost a necessary incident of jury trials, since the presence of a jury . . . already insured the presence of a large part of the public." 2

Page 506

As the jury system evolved in the years after the Norman Conquest, and the jury came to be but a small segment representing the community, the obligation of all freeman to attend criminal trials was relaxed; however, the public character of the proceedings, including jury selection, remained unchanged. Later, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the jury became an impartial trier of facts, owing in large part to a development in that period, allowing challenges.3 1 W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 332, 335 (7th ed. 1956). Since then, the accused has generally enjoyed the right to challenge jurors in open court at the outset of the trial.4

Although there appear to be few contemporary accounts of the process of jury selection of that day,5 one early record written in 1565 places...

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1678 practice notes
  • Bond v. Utreras, No. 07-2651.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • November 10, 2009
    ...court records is not unlimited, see Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598, 98 S.Ct. 1306; Press-Enterprise Co. v. Super. Ct. of Cal., Riverside County, 464 U.S. 501, 510, 104 S.Ct. 819, 78 L.Ed.2d 629 (1984), and Rule 26(c) allows a court to shield certain documents from the public when there is good caus......
  • U.S. v. Ford, No. 86-1098
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • August 11, 1987
    ...1038 (1912). 38 Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 217, 102 S.Ct. 940, 946, 71 L.Ed.2d 78 (1982). 39 Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 509 n. 8, 104 S.Ct. 819, 823 n. 8, 78 L.Ed.2d 629 (1984) (quoting United States v. Velazquez, 490 F.2d 29, 34 (2d Cir.1973)); see also Gan......
  • United States v. Avenatti, (S1) 19 Cr. 373 (PGG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • July 6, 2021
    ...“presumption of openness” applies to criminal proceedings, including voir dire. Id. at 98; see also PressEnterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 504-10 (1984). Indeed, as set forth above, this Court's understanding at trial was that Avenatti had consented to the presence of a report......
  • Associated Press, In re, Nos. 98-1267
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • December 7, 1998
    ...Grove Fresh Distribs., Inc. v. Everfresh Juice Co., 24 F.3d 893, 897 (7th Cir.1994); see also Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 104 S.Ct. 819, 78 L.Ed.2d 629 (1984); Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1978). In Grove Fresh,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1676 cases
  • Bond v. Utreras, No. 07-2651.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • November 10, 2009
    ...court records is not unlimited, see Nixon, 435 U.S. at 598, 98 S.Ct. 1306; Press-Enterprise Co. v. Super. Ct. of Cal., Riverside County, 464 U.S. 501, 510, 104 S.Ct. 819, 78 L.Ed.2d 629 (1984), and Rule 26(c) allows a court to shield certain documents from the public when there is good caus......
  • U.S. v. Ford, No. 86-1098
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • August 11, 1987
    ...1038 (1912). 38 Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 217, 102 S.Ct. 940, 946, 71 L.Ed.2d 78 (1982). 39 Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 509 n. 8, 104 S.Ct. 819, 823 n. 8, 78 L.Ed.2d 629 (1984) (quoting United States v. Velazquez, 490 F.2d 29, 34 (2d Cir.1973)); see also Gan......
  • United States v. Avenatti, (S1) 19 Cr. 373 (PGG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • July 6, 2021
    ...“presumption of openness” applies to criminal proceedings, including voir dire. Id. at 98; see also PressEnterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 504-10 (1984). Indeed, as set forth above, this Court's understanding at trial was that Avenatti had consented to the presence of a report......
  • Associated Press, In re, Nos. 98-1267
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • December 7, 1998
    ...Grove Fresh Distribs., Inc. v. Everfresh Juice Co., 24 F.3d 893, 897 (7th Cir.1994); see also Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501, 104 S.Ct. 819, 78 L.Ed.2d 629 (1984); Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 98 S.Ct. 1306, 55 L.Ed.2d 570 (1978). In Grove Fresh,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Procedural Rights
    • United States
    • Constitutional Environmental Law: Giving Force to Fundamental Principles in Africa
    • March 18, 2007
    ...narrowly tailored to serve that interest”) (quoting Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966)); Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 464 U.S. 501 (1984) (holding the right of public access to criminal hearings extends to the voir dire process); Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 47......

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