Criminal Procedure – Standing of the Press to Protest Judge’s Exclusion of the Public from Criminal Trial

Plaintiff newspapers sent reporters to the trial of Minot Jelke. Defendant judge, exercising his discretion, excluded them as well as the general public from the courtroom when testimony dealing with the sordid details of prostitution and pandering was expected. The family and friends of the accused, along with the officers of the court, witnesses and jury were not excluded. Plaintiffs applied to the Supreme Court, Special Term, of New York County for a writ of prohibition to restrain the defendant from enforcing his order. The application for the writ was based on a statute guaranteeing the accused in a criminal trial the right to a public trial. This mandatory right is qualified by another statute listing specific exceptions to the right of public trial in the interest of protecting public morals and decency. The application was denied on the grounds that the defendant had the power to issue the exclusion order and that the Supreme Court, Special Term, could not substitute its judgment for that of the defendant. On appeal, held, affirmed. The guarantee of a public trial is personal to the parties to the trial and is not a right of the public. While the public has an interest in a public trial, it is up to the accused to assert or waive that right, and outsiders have no standing to raise it. No question of freedom of speech or of the press is involved because these rights do not allow the press access to places not open to the general public as well. United Press Association v. Valente, 308 N.Y. 71, 123 N.E. (2d) 777 (1954).