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

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

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

Estes v. Texas

No. 256

Argued April 1, 1965

Decided June 7, 1965

381 U.S. 532

Syllabus

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. 381 U. S. 536-552.

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

Page 381 U. S. 533

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. 381 U. S. 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. 381 U. S. 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. 381 U. S. 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. 381 U. S. 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. 381 U. S. 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. 381 U. S. 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. 381 U. S. 550.

Page 381 U. S. 534

(h) Application of the rule of the Rideau case, supra, is clearly warranted by the facts of this case. Pp. 381 U. S. 550-552.

Reversed.

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