Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966)

Though technically not an access case, Sheppard v. Maxwell was a watershed decision involving the 14th Amendment rights of defendants, especially in highly publicized cases.Moore states, "it also played a major role in a movement by lower courts away from openness. Indeed, the Court's decision served as a lightning rod for many state courts to close trials, although the justices clearly did not intend to send a message that press and public access should be restricted beyond the suggestions made for preventing a crowded courtroom (Moore, p. 453)."

Samuel H. Sheppard , a prominent Ohio osteopath, was tried and convicted by a jury of second-degree murder after his wife, Marilyn, was bludgeoned to death in their suburban Cleveland home. The case received extensive coverage by the press, with headlines such as "Why isn't Sam Sheppard in jail?" and "Getting away with murder" covering the front pages of newspapers. The press coverage was merciless in their accusations against the defendant. Sheppard was not formally charged until more than a month after the murder, during which the media had already condemned him as guilty. The jury in this case was allowed to read, watch, and, hear all the negative publicity surrounding the case, and they themselves became media celebrities whose pictures -and even names and addresses- were published in the local newspapers. The Court denounced this kind of "carnival atmosphere" at the trial. The high judges summarized in their 8-1 decision ordering a new trial for Sheppard, "newsmen practically overtook the entire courtroom, hounding most of the participants in the trial, especially Sheppard." The Court went on to say that as a result the defendant was denied a fair trial in violation of his 14th Amendment due process rights. At his second trial, 12 years after the first, Sheppard was acquitted. His attorney was F. Lee Bailey, the same attorney who was a member of O. J. Simpson's defense team.

The Court suggested several remedies short of prior restraint in this case:

Moore adds, "it is significant that the Court did not cite restrictive orders (gag orders) on the press as judicial remedy, but instead favored restricting the parties, witnesses and attorneys (Moore, p. 455)." However, many courts interpreted the Sheppard decision as a license to restrict the press anyway. This eventually led to the Court's decision to rule out such censorship under most circumstances in the case Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart .

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