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Supreme Court of the United States
Argued April 19, 1976 ; June 30, 1976
[*541] [***687] [**2794] MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
The respondent State District Judge entered an order restraining the petitioners from publishing or broadcasting accounts of confessions or admissions made by the accused or facts "strongly implicative" of the accused in a widely reported murder of six persons. We granted certiorari to decide whether the entry of such an order on the showing made before the state court violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.
[*542] On the evening of October 18, 1975, local police found the six members of the Henry Kellie family murdered in their home in [**2795] Sutherland, Neb., a town of about 850 people. Police released the description of a suspect, Erwin Charles Simants, to the reporters who had hastened to the scene of the crime. Simants was arrested and arraigned in Lincoln County Court the following morning, ending a tense night for this small rural community.
The crime immediately attracted widespread news coverage, by local, regional, and national newspapers, radio and television stations. Three days after the crime, the County Attorney and Simants' attorney joined in asking the County [****7] Court to enter a restrictive order relating to "matters that may or may not be publicly reported or disclosed to the public," because of the "mass coverage [***688] by news media" and the "reasonable likelihood of prejudicial news which would make difficult, if not impossible, the impaneling of an impartial jury and tend to prevent a fair trial." The County Court heard oral argument but took no evidence; no attorney for members of the press appeared at this stage. The County Court granted the prosecutor's motion for a restrictive order and entered it the next day, October 22. The order prohibited everyone in attendance from "releas[ing] or authoriz[ing] the release for public dissemination in any form or manner whatsoever any testimony given or evidence adduced"; the order also required members of the press to observe the Nebraska Bar-Press Guidelines. 2 [*543]
[****8] Simants' preliminary hearing was held the same day, open to the public but subject to the order. The County Court bound over the defendant for trial to the State District Court. The charges, as amended to reflect the autopsy findings, were that Simants had committed the murders in the course of a sexual assault.
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427 U.S. 539 *; 96 S. Ct. 2791 **; 49 L. Ed. 2d 683 ***; 1976 U.S. LEXIS 17 ****; 1 Media L. Rep. 1064
NEBRASKA PRESS ASSN. ET AL. v. STUART, JUDGE, ET AL.
Prior History: CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NEBRASKA
prior restraint, press, fair trial, reporting, pre-trial, rights, jurors, cases, confession, guidelines, prejudicial, news media, proceedings, broadcast, newspaper, courts, media, preliminary hearing, measures, freedom of the press, impartial jury, circumstances, disclosure, trial judge, publish, defendant's right, suppressed, records, orders, murder
Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Mootness, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Case or Controversy, Case & Controversy Requirements, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Criminal Law & Procedure, Challenges to Jury Venire, Bias & Prejudice, Right to Unbiased Jury, Criminal Process, Right to Jury Trial, Judicial Officers, Judges, Juries & Jurors, Sequestration of Jury, Jurisdiction & Venue, Pretrial Publicity, Governments, Courts, Judges, Freedom of Speech, Free Press, Fundamental Freedoms, Scope, Defamation, Judicial & Legislative Restraints, Prior Restraint