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A DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO A PUBLIC TRIAL

Criminal Law

A defendant is guaranteed the right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The right to a public trial is also an element of the defendant’s due process rights, which rights are guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. In addition, states have enacted provisions in their constitutions that guarantee a defendant’s right to a public trial. The public also has a right to attend criminal trials under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The purpose of a public trial is to prevent abuses in secret proceedings, which abuses may lead to the oppression of an accused person. Another purpose is to guarantee that the accused person has been prosecuted in a fair and just manner.

A defendant’s right to a public trial is met if members of the public and members of the press have an opportunity to attend the defendant’s trial and to report on their observations of the trial. The defendant’s relatives, friends, and counsel must also be allowed to attend the defendant’s trial.

A trial does not need to be televised or videotaped in order for a defendant’s right to a public trial to be satisfied. Although some states allow television or video cameras in a courtroom, the presence of cameras in a highly publicized case may create due process violations. In those states that allow cameras in the courtroom, the trial judge has discretion to establish guidelines regarding the use of the cameras.

A defendant’s right to a public trial is not absolute. The right must be balanced against factors that justify the exclusion of the public from the trial. If the public’s behavior may affect a jury’s verdict, a trial court has discretion to limit the public’s access to the courtroom.

Even though there is a presumption that a defendant’s trial should be open to the public, the presumption may be overcome if closing the trial would preserve higher values, such as the protection of the identity of a victim. Trials where minors are the victims of sexual offenses are normally closed to the public. A trial court bases its decision to close the trial on the facts of each particular case.

When a trial court decides to close a trial to the public, the trial court’s order should state its specific reasons for closing the trial. The trial court’s findings should address the fact that closing the trial was necessary in order to protect the interests on which the order was based.

If a defendant claims that his or her right to a public trial was violated, the defendant has the burden of showing that his or her trial was not public. However, the defendant does not have to show prejudice as a result of a violation of this right.

A defendant’s right to a public trial may be violated even if the public has not been excluded from a courtroom. If a trial court prevents certain evidence from being heard by the public, the defendant’s right to a public trial may be violated.

The right to a public trial involves all proceedings that are connected with a trial. These proceedings include pretrial hearings, suppression hearings, bail hearings, jury selection, and the actual trial itself.

Although a defendant has a right a public trial, the defendant does not have the opposing right to exclude the public from his or her trial. However, the defendant’s right to a fair trial is superior to the public’s right to attend a trial. If the defendant can establish that his or her due process rights will be violated by the presence of the public at his or her trial, the defendant may have the right to exclude the public, or at least certain members of the public, from attending his or her trial.

Posted in: Criminal Law

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