The right to a public trial ensures people navigating the justice system receive fair treatment at the hands of the law. Public trials also allow the American people to see the justice system in action, which enhances your understanding of how the legal system works and boosts confidence in the fairness of this process.
However, the right to a public trial is not absolute, as explained by the Legal Information Institute.
Multiple amendments protect your rights to a public trial
The First Amendment, which upholds the rights of free expression for Americans, also extends to public trials. In this case, the public can attend court proceedings at their own discretion, which ensures transparency.
The Sixth Amendment extends the right of a public trial to the accused. When trials are public and without secrecy, there is a lower risk of rights violations.
The Fourteenth Amendment has a due process clause. This requires the state to uphold all rights owed to a person, which can include the right to a public trial.
There are exceptions to these rights
The court can restrict access to trials based on the circumstances of a criminal proceeding. A specific person or people may lack access, or the restriction can extend to the public at large.
If an open courtroom impacts the ability to hold a fair trial, a closed trial may be acceptable. This occurs when there are multiple disruptions during a trial or if there is a perceived security risk to any of the participants. Regardless of the underlying reason, it must be compelling enough to result in a complete closure of a trial.
Public safety as justification for suspension of civil rights
In extraordinary circumstances, when courtrooms are closed to preserve the public’s safety, it can leave some defendants in limbo. During the COVID pandemic, Connecticut suspended jury trials, as did U.S. federal courts, to protect the health of jury members. This regulation appears to, albeit temporarily, suspend individuals’ rights to a speedy trial of their peers.
Connecticut courts stated they would only work on “Priority 1 Business Functions.” These matters include bond review, domestic violence cases and juvenile detention hearings.