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Criminal Defendants’ Right to a Public Trial Extends to Jury Selection Process

The U.S. States Supreme Court recently ruled that a defendant’s Constitutional Right (per the 6th Amendment) was violated when the court refused to allow his uncle from watching the jury voir dire process at his criminal trial. As a result the ruling, the man had his cocaine trafficking conviction overturned.

In general, because the public has a First Amendment Right to access the jury voir dire process, a criminal defendant also has a Sixth Amendment Right to a public trial. In other words, the Supreme Court essentially stated that it doesn’t make sense for the public to have the right of access to public proceedings, but to then deny a defendant his right to to a public trial.

In this particular case, Presley v. Georgia, the criminal defendant’s lawyer objected to the trial court from excluding the defendant’s uncle from sitting in the same room with prospective jurors. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, in a criminal trial, the courts are obligated to accommodate the public access.

In many of the criminal jury trials I have had prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Presley v. Georgia, the Judge would often clear the courtroom before having the prospective jurors enter for the jury selection process to begin. The rationale behind this practice was to safeguard the potential jurors from being influenced in any way from other members of the audience.

The U.S. Supreme Court suggested, however, that there could be other alternatives to safeguard the taint or influence to any prospective jurors from other persons in the audience. Alternatives might include reserving specific rows of the courtroom for the public, dividing the jurors up to avoid congestion in the courtroom, or even instructing the jurors not to interact with any members of the audience. With these or other alternative methods, both the public’s access to a trial, and a criminal defendant’s right to a public trial would be protected.

No matter what the charges, it is critical that you are represented by an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer who regularly keeps tabs on the most recent legal changes in the law. Don’t trust your criminal case with just anyone because your freedom is on the line. For a free consultation to discuss your case, contact Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney Lefteris K. Travayiakis via e-mail or directly at 617-325-9500.

Click here to read the full U.S. Supreme Court Opinion in Presley v. Georgia.