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Extension of a Criminal Defendant's Right to a Public Trial: Access to the Courtroom During the Jury Charge

NCJ Number
St. John's Law Review Volume: 61 Issue: 2 Dated: (Winter 1987) Pages: 277-289
N A Pellegrini
Date Published
13 pages
Jurisdictions which continue to close the courtroom during the jury charge, without the prerequisite factual determination, should abandon this practice to achieve an efficient and workable national standard as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The sixth amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a public trial, but the right to an open trial may be limited at the discretion of the trial judge in the interest of a fair trial. A common procedure in both State and Federal courts is to lock the courtroom doors during the jury charge, prohibiting additional entrants during this phase of the trial. This practice has been justified as a time-honored tradition designed to avoid jury distraction during this critical phase of the trial. The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that a criminal defendant's right to a public trial may only be limited under very compelling circumstances. Even if such circumstances are found by the trial judge, the closure order must be no broader than required to protect the defendant's interest, and the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives. Closure of the courtroom during the jury charge, without a valid justification for doing so, is a deprivation of a defendant's right to a public trial. Court personnel can prevent trial spectators from acting in such a manner as to distract jurors, such that closure is not required. 60 footnotes.


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