Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Ct.
Annotate this Case
464 U.S. 501 (1984)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Ct., 464 U.S. 501 (1984)
Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California
Argued October 12, 1983
Decided January 18, 1984
464 U.S. 501
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.
1. The guarantees of open public proceedings in criminal trials cover proceedings for the voir dire examination of potential jurors. Pp. 464 U. S. 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. 464 U. S. 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.
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. 464 U. S. 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. 464 U. S. 510-513.
Vacated and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 464 U. S. 513, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 464 U. S. 516, filed concurring opinions. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 464 U. S. 520.