Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368; 99 S. Ct. 2898; 61 L. Ed. 2d 608 (1979)

Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368; 99 S. Ct. 2898; 61 L. Ed. 2d 608 (1979)

Facts—Two men committed murder. At their pretrial hearing their attorneys requested that the public and the press be excluded so as not to jeopardize the defendants’ ability to receive a fair trial. The district attorney did not oppose the motion. A reporter who was employed by Gannett Co., the petitioner, was present in the courtroom but made no objection. Judge DePasquale granted the motion. The reporter wrote a letter to the judge the next day and requested access to the transcript, which was denied. DePasquale allowed another hearing, but refused to vacate the order or grant Gannett immediate access to the transcript, ruling that the defendants’ right to a fair trial outweighed the interests of the press and the public. The Supreme Court of New York reversed the trial judge’s order. Before the case was heard at the Appellate Division, the defendants pleaded guilty to lesser included offenses, and a transcript of the suppression hearing was made available to Gannett. The New York Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and upheld the exclusion of the press and the public from the pretrial proceeding.

Question—Does the state court order for protection of defendants’ fair-trial rights in a murder case, agreed to by prosecution and defense, violate the Constitution in barring members of the press and public from the pretrial suppression hearing?


ReasonsJ. Stewart (5–4). “To safeguard the due process rights of the accused, a trial judge has an affirmative constitutional duty to minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity.      And because of the Constitution’s

pervasive concern for these due process rights, a trial judge may surely take protective measures even when they are not strictly and inescapably necessary.. . Among the guarantees that the amendment provides to a person charged with the commission of a criminal offense, and to him alone, is the ‘right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.’ The Constitution nowhere mentions any right of access to a criminal trial on the part of the public; its guarantee, like the others enumerated, is personal to the accused. Several factors lead to the conclusion that the actions of the trial judge here were consistent with any right of access the petitioner may have had under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. First, none of the spectators present in the courtroom, including the reporter employed by the petitioner, objected when the defendants made the closure notice. Furthermore, any denial of access in this case was not absolute but only temporary. Once the danger of prejudice had dissipated, a transcript of the suppression hearing was made available.”

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