The Right to a Public Trial: Reasons and Exceptions
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives criminal defendants the right to a public trial. Although this right has numerous benefits, there are also several cases in which it doesn’t apply.
Reasons for the Right
The right to a public trial benefits everyone, including the public, criminal defendants, and government. Here are some of the reasons for public criminal trials.
To Encourage Witnesses to Come Forward
Public trial means as many people as possible, including potential witnesses, know about the trial. Potential witnesses can then come forward with their testimony and further the course of justice.
Consider an example where the police have falsely accused you of battery. If the court tries you in private, some of those who can testify and give you an alibi might not even hear about your arrest. With a public trial, witnesses who can place you at an alternative location during the alleged crime may come forward and help you.
To Hold the Justice System Accountable
Members of the criminal justice system, such as the judge and prosecutor, are fallible. Some of them might bend the course of justice to serve their own interests during private trials. With a public trial, the public will be able to hold the justice system accountable for their actions. The possibility of accountability encourages justice and fairness.
To Reduce the Risk of Perjury
Public trials also encourage people to tell nothing but the truth. Defendants, lawyers, and witnesses are also more likely to be honest if the public eye is on them than if their actions are private.
To Affirm the Criminal Justice System
Lastly, public trials also prove to the public that the criminal justice system works. That way, members of the public are less likely to take matters into their own hands because they have faith in the system.
Despite the numerous benefits of public trials, the right to a public trial is not absolute. In exceptional cases, a judge might decide to hold part of the proceedings or even the whole trial in private. Below are some of the reasons for private trials.
To Keep People Safe
Private trials are necessary in cases where public trials might endanger the lives of innocent people. For example, the court may decide on a private trial if:
- Associates of the defendant might retaliate on members of the court or witnesses
- A public trial might endanger national security. A trial of terrorists is an example of this.
- A public trial might expose the identities of undercover agents
In such cases, the court may also seal its records or at least some of its sensitive parts.
To Observe Public Decency
A private trial may also be necessary to keep indecent evidence, such as nude photos or videos of people, away from the public eye. Such privacy is necessary if pubic exposure of the photos isn’t material to the proceedings.
To Protect Minors
Minors belong to a protected class, and courts often go out of their way to protect them from the consequences of criminal trials. This protection exists both for minors with criminal cases and minors who are witnesses in criminal proceedings. For these reasons, proceedings in juvenile courts are not public.
To Protect Confidential or Private Information
In some cases, a private trial might be necessary to ensure confidential information stays confidential or private. For example, courts usually strive to keep health records or trade secrets away from the public eye.
If you have a criminal case, the authorities must not violate your rights at any time, including your right to a public trial. Carl L. Britt Jr. Attorney at Law has been practicing law since 1980. Our considerable knowledge and experience mean we can defend you and ensure the authorities do not violate your rights. Contact us for a consultation so that we can determine the best way to help you.