The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Speedy and Public Trial, Impartial Jury, and Being Informed of the Accusation

Guaranteeing a Public Trial

Protection for the Accused

As with the right to a speedy trial, the right to a public trial was widely accepted before it was incorporated against the states by the 14th Amendment. Although this right is meant primarily as a protection for the accused, there is also a benefit to the public: the judiciary is a part of our government, and its operation should be open for all to see. Indeed, the press and the public may generally demand access to trials as part of their right to receive information pursuant to the 1st Amendment. Consequently, a defendant might not be able to exclude the public from a trial even if he would prefer to do so.

For a trial to qualify as public, it must be open to spectators. But the 6th Amendment does not mandate that the general public must always have easy access to a particular trial. Courtrooms are only so big, and sometimes, as during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, there are many more people who want to watch than there are places to put them. Moreover, the courts, as co-equal branches of government, have great control over their own proceedings, which must be orderly and fair in order to satisfy the requirements of due process. Therefore, while reporters are almost always allowed in courtrooms, most courts prohibit public broadcasting of their trials. There are also some exceptions to the right to a public trial. If parts of a trial involve state secrets, or if making known a witness’s identity would put him in danger, then portions of a trial may be held in secret.