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United States: Supreme Court Rules Right to Public Trial Includes Jury Selection Phase

(Mar. 9, 2010) On January 19, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a criminal defendant's right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution extends to the jury selection process.

During petitioner Eric Presley's trial in a Georgia state court for cocaine trafficking, the trial court told Presley's uncle that he could not sit in the courtroom to observe jury selection, over Presley's counsel's objection and request for accommodation. After Presley was convicted, he moved for a new trial, arguing that the court's exclusion of his uncle from the courtroom during jury selection violated his right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment. The trial court denied the motion, and the Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed. Presley petitioned for certiorari to the Supreme Court, which was granted.

The Supreme Court ruled that the right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment extends to the jury selection phase of the trial. The Court noted existing precedent establishing a right of the press under the First Amendment to access to the jury selection phase of a trial. The Court extended this right to the criminal defendant, holding that the Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants a personal right to have the jury selection phase of their trial open to the public. The Court said that while the right is not absolute, trial courts are obligated to take every reasonable measure to accommodate a request for public attendance at a criminal trial. Because the trial court in this case did not consider any reasonable alternatives to closing the courtroom during jury selection, the Court reversed the judgment of the Georgia Supreme Court and remanded the case for further proceedings. (Presley v. Georgia, No. 09-5270 (Jan. 19, 2009), available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/09pdf/09-5270.pdf.)