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Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California

Supreme Court of the United States

October 12, 1983, Argued ; January 18, 1984, Decided

No. 82-556


 [*503]   [***634]   [**820]  CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

 We granted certiorari to decide whether the guarantees of open public proceedings in criminal trials cover proceedings for the voir dire examination of potential jurors.

Albert Greenwood Brown, Jr., was tried and convicted of the rape and murder of a teenage girl, and sentenced to death in California Superior Court. Before the voir dire examination of prospective jurors began, petitioner, Press-Enterprise Co., moved that the voir dire be open to the public and the press. Petitioner contended that the public had an absolute right to attend the trial, and asserted that the trial commenced with the voir dire proceedings. The State opposed petitioner's motion, arguing that if the press were present, juror responses would lack the candor necessary to assure a fair trial.

The trial [****6]  judge agreed and permitted petitioner to attend only the "general voir dire." He stated that counsel would conduct the "individual voir dire with regard to death qualifications and any other special areas that counsel may feel some problem with regard to . . . in private. . . ." App. 93. The voir dire consumed six  [**821]  weeks and all but approximately three days was closed to the public.

After the jury was empaneled, petitioner moved the trial court to release a complete transcript of the voir dire proceedings. At oral argument on the motion, the trial judge  [*504]  described the responses of prospective jurors at their voir dire:

"Most of them are of little moment. There are a few, however, in which some personal problems were discussed which could be somewhat sensitive as far as publication of those particular individuals' situations are concerned." Id., at 103.

Counsel for Brown argued that release of the transcript would violate the jurors' right of privacy. The prosecutor agreed, adding that the prospective jurors had answered questions under an "implied promise of confidentiality." Id., at 111. The court denied petitioner's motion,  [****7]  concluding as follows:

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464 U.S. 501 *; 104 S. Ct. 819 **; 78 L. Ed. 2d 629 ***; 1984 U.S. LEXIS 20 ****; 52 U.S.L.W. 4113; 10 Media L. Rep. 1161



Disposition: Vacated and remanded.


jurors, voir dire, proceedings, closure, prospective juror, questions, right to privacy, criminal trial, privacy, privacy interest, trial judge, attend, access rights, trial court, confidence, courts, cases, jury selection, fair trial, circumstances, disclosure, press

Criminal Law & Procedure, Juries & Jurors, Size of Jury, General Overview, Waiver of Jury Trial, Trials, Defendant's Rights, Right to Public Trial, Challenges for Cause, Voir Dire, Right to Fair Trial, Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Free Press, Equal Protection, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Double Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy, Double Jeopardy Protection, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Attachment Jeopardy, Civil Procedure, Jurors, Selection, Voir Dire, Governments, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Jury Trials, Judicial Officers, Judges, Court Records