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Closing the Courtroom to the Public

POSTED IN Criminal Law Process BY Lawyers.comsm

Generally, courtroom proceedings are open to the public. A public trial is supposed to ensure that
the proceedings are conducted fairly. However, in some circumstances a court is allowed to
exclude anyone lacking a direct interest in the case from the courtroom.

Motion to Close Courtroom

A motion to close the courtroom to the public may be granted if there is a compelling reason to
justify the closure of a courtroom, for example:

A trial for sex offenses involving minors under the age of 18

A trial of criminal proceeding involving a husband and wife

A trial involving the crime of incest, child pornography or criminal sexual conduct

Need Compelling Reason to Justify Closure

The court must determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether the concern for the victim's wellbeing necessitates closure of court proceedings. Occasionally, criminal proceedings are closed to
all members of the media and the public. However, a court will not do this unless it has a
compelling reason. For example when the First Amendment rights of the media to attend a
criminal trial conflict with a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, the defendant's
right to a fair trial prevails and the proceeding may be closed.

Closure of Entire Proceeding or Portion of Proceeding

The court must decide if a closure of all of a proceeding or only a portion of the proceeding is
necessary. In closed court proceedings, a court may deny access to the transcript, court personnel
or any other possible source that could provide an account of the victim's testimony during such
time the order of closure was in effect. The court also may deny access to a victim's identity.

Excluding Public from Courtroom

Members of the general public may be excluded from a courtroom only if the judge presiding in
the courtroom determines that such exclusion is warranted in that case. In exercising this
discretion, the judge may consider whether:

The person is causing or is likely to cause a disruption in the proceedings

The presence of a person is objected to by one of the parties for a compelling reason

The orderly administration of justice, including the nature of the proceeding, the privacy
interests of individuals before the court and the need for protection of the litigants,
especially children, from harm requires that some or all observers be excluded from the

Less restrictive alternatives to exclusion are unavailable or inappropriate under the

circumstances of the particular case

The judge must make any closure findings on the record.

Questions for Your Attorney

Who can be excluded from a trial?

When can the trial transcripts be sealed?

Can just a portion of a trial be closed?