Samples Media Richmond Newspapers INC. vs Virginia Court Case

Richmond Newspapers INC. vs Virginia Court Case

1027 words 4 page(s)

Summary and Outcomes
The majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court established that the right of the public and press to attend criminal proceedings is guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. At the fourth trial of the defendant for the murder of a hotel manager, the court granted his counsel the right to expunge the public; the press and the general public from the courtroom. Appellants for Richmond Newspapers, Mr. Wheeler, and Mr. McCarthy were subsequently removed from the courtroom (Fenner 415). The appellants challenged the decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. In its judgment, the court reasoned that the first amendment provided the general public with various rights, including the right of assembly in public places, for which courthouses fall. Therefore, a judge could not just decide to close the court proceedings to the general public without due findings that override public’s right to access.

Facts of the Case
A defendant, known as Stevenson, was charged with the murder of a hotel manager, who had died of stab wounds. The lower courts had initially convicted the defendant, but the conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court after the realization that the lower courts could have admitted evidence illegally. Two subsequent trials of the defendant yielded mistrials. At the fourth trial of Stevenson, the defendant, his counsel requested that the trials be conducted in the absence of the public, including the media. The prosecution and the Appellants did not reject the request, and the prayers of the defendant’s counsel were granted. However, later that day, the appellants challenged the closure notice, indicating that the court lacked evidentiary findings to support the closure, and therefore, it was illegal. The court subsequently denied the request that the press would be distracting to the jury. The trial then continued without the press and the public.

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The appellants subsequently moved to intervene and petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court to review the closure ruling. This was subsequently denied, and the Appellants sought a review in the U.S. Supreme Court, granting them a writ of certiorari.

The decision of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in plurality, through Justice Burger, delivered the opinion, reversed the ruling of the lower court. The court examined rulings and development of criminal trials in the U.S. and England, noting that such trials have traditionally been open to any person who cared to observe. More specifically, the Supreme Court held that court processes should ‘satisfy the appearance of justice’ for it to work effectively (Fenner 415)). More specifically, the jury indicated that “a presumption of openness inheres in the very nature of a criminal trial under America’s system of Justice” However, the courts expressed concern that the constitution and the Bill of Rights do not provide any explicit provisions that guaranteed the public the right to access. However, the First and the Fourteen Amendment provided the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to public assembly, and purposefully have a resolve of assuring freedom of communication on matters governance. And, that such amendments were enacted at the backdrop of many of the criminal cases being presumptively open (Hayes 1112). The first amendment, therefore, provided for the freedom of speech and that of the press, and summarily, therefore, prohibited the government from closing courtrooms to the general public. Further, the Supreme Court argued that the right to assembly was integral, defining the courtroom as a public place where the people and the media, had a right to be present, and where such presence has been historically thought to elevate the openness of such trials.

Equally, the court established that due to the simple fact that such a right was not expressly indicated in the constitution did not make it cease to exist. It recognized that some of the fundamental rights, with no express guarantees, have been considered indispensable to the enjoyment of enumerated rights, including the right to privacy, presumed innocence, and right to travel. Such rights are not explicitly established in the constitution, but they are fundamental rights that citizens of the U.S. enjoy.

Implications and Historical Significance
As a decision of the supreme court, the ruling binds all the lower courts. This was a significant moment in the history of the United States, especially about implicit rights and the freedom of the press. The court established that the first amendment implicitly includes the right of the public and press to attend criminal proceedings. The right of the press is one of the landmarks of a free society, and this ruling ingrained this in the annals of history. Equally, the ruling gave a wide latitude and set a precedent for future courses. It established that there are several provisions that are not expressly provided either by the constitution or the Bill of Rights; however, such provisions are implicitly protected by the law. For instance, while the constitution does not expressly indicate that every American has the right to travel, such a right is protected by some clauses of the law. And by the fact that there is no express indication of such a clause in the law does not make it invalid.

The ruling further appealed various aspects, including the history and the current practice of government towards permitting trial access, society’s interests favoring access, and governmental reasons for denying access (Spencer 743). The court, in its inquiry, established a long tradition of public attendance of trial extending from the Norman conquest to the American colonization, establishing the English view that “the presumptive openness of the trial” is one of the essential qualities of a court of justice” (Spencer 745). When the American organic laws were established, criminal proceedings had long been open to the general public. The case for access rested on a strong tradition that had been practiced for years.

  • Fenner, G. Michael, and James L. Koley. “Access to judicial proceedings: To Richmond newspapers and beyond.” Harv. CR-CLL Rev. 16 (1981): 415.
  • Hayes, Michael J. “What Ever Happened to” The Right to Know”? Access to Government-Controlled Information since Richmond Newspapers.” Virginia Law Review (1987): 1111-1143.
  • Spencer, Christopher C. “Public Access to Criminal Trials: Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia.” U. Rich. L. Rev. 15 (1980): 741.

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