Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia (1980)

Not until this case in 1980 did the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledge the constitutional right of public access to judicial proceedings. The justices held 7-1 in Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia that the first and the fourth Amendments guarantee the public and the press the right to attend criminal trials. "The right was not absolute, according to the Court, but 'absent anSupreme Court overriding interest articulated in findings, the trial of a criminal case must be open to the public' (Moore, p. 446)." This particular case involved a defendant who was tried for the fourth time on a murder charge. As Moore writes, "the first trial had been reversed on appeal and the two subsequent trials were declared mistrials. When the defense attorney moved that the trial be closed, the state trial court judge granted the request. Neither the prosecutor, nor the two newspaper reporters, who were present in the courtroom at the time, objected to the closure. However, the reporters did file a motion later that day, asking that the order be vacated, but the judge denied the request. The following day, the judge granted a motion by the defense to strike the prosecution's evidence. He then dismissed the jury and ruled the defendant was not guilty. All during this time, of course, the proceedings were closed to the press and public. The Virginia Supreme Court dismissed the appeal by the newspaper that the judge's closure be overturned (Moore, p.446)." One particular aspect of this case which is still puzzling to scholars and journalists alike, is that there is no clear indication among the judges opinions on whether public access to judicial proceedings is a first or a sixth Amendment right.

Click here for the complete Supreme Court opinion.