Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., County of Riverside

PETITIONER: Press-Enterprise Co.
RESPONDENT: Superior Court of California for the County of Riverside
LOCATION: Superior Court of California, Riverside County

DOCKET NO.: 84-1560
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 478 US 1 (1986)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1986
GRANTED: Oct 15, 1985

ADVOCATES:
Joyce Ellen M. Reikes - on behalf of the respondent
James D. Ward - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case

A nurse in California was charged with killing 12 patients by administering massive doses of heart medication. During a preliminary hearing in the Superior Court of California, Riverside County, the nurse moved to exclude the public. California law requires preliminary hearings to be open to the public unless a closed hearing is necessary to protect the accused’s right to a fair trial. The judge granted the motion because of the the national publicity surrounding the case. After the hearing, Press-Enterprise Co. requested a transcript of the proceedings. The court denied the request because the transcript might prejudice the nurse’s right to a fair and impartial trial. Press-Enterprise filed a preemptory writ of mandate in the California Court of Appeal, but the court denied the writ. The California Supreme Court also denied the writ, holding that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right of access to preliminary hearings. The court also held that once the accused establishes a “reasonable likelihood of substantial prejudice”, the burden shifts to Press-Enterprise to show there is no reasonable probability of prejudice.

Question

(1) Does the public’s constitutional right to access criminal proceedings extend to pre trial proceedings?

(2) Does the standard for closed preliminary hearings under the California Penal Code violate the constitutional rights of the public?

Media for Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., County of Riverside

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1986 in Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., County of Riverside

James D. Ward:

It does occur that the defense will put on a case, and most assuredly there is cross examination.

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

--The press in a suppression of evidence hearing under Waller, the way I read it, does have that First Amendment right.

James D. Ward:

I think it is fair to say that it is used as a time to test the prosecution's case, Justice Rehnquist.

So, to the extent that the preliminary hearing involves motions to suppress, there has to be a different result?

But do you have grand juries in California?

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

If a preliminary hearing encompasses a motion to suppress, in other words, if one is made during the course of the preliminary hearing, certainly a motion can be made to open that portion.

James D. Ward:

Yes, we do, Justice Powell.

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

Because the suppression hearing unquestionably is different than the preliminary hearing itself.

And how do they function in relationship to the preliminary hearing?

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

There, like a trial, both sides have the incentive to prevail.

James D. Ward:

Grand juries in California are deemed by our Court to be nothing but extensions of the arm of the prosecution, and even though a grand jury may indict in a given case, the California Supreme Court has held that a defendant is entitled also to a preliminary hearing.

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

I believe the Court pointed this out in Gannett.

James D. Ward:

In all instances is a felony prosecution a defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing in California.

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

Both sides have the incentive to prevail, whereas at a preliminary hearing you do not have this two-sided presentation of evidence.

What is the result of the preliminary hearing?

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

There is not the two-sided, the bilateral incentive to prevail.

James D. Ward:

The result of the preliminary hearing, Justice Marshall, is simply to hold the defendant to answer or not hold the defendant to answer to the Superior Court for trial of the action.

Well, yet, the defendant surely has an incentive to ask the magistrate to hold there is no probable cause to bind over.

Similar to the indictment?

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

Unquestionably that's true.

James D. Ward:

Yes, the--

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

However, this is an early stage of the proceedings where the district attorney... the prosecutor may have taken some months in building his case to the point where he files a complaint, seeks an arrest and so forth, where the defendant is newly arrested.

It's just about duplicative of the indictment?

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

A preliminary hearing in California may take place as early... it doesn't often, but it may take place under the statute as early as two days after arraignment, at which time the defendant hasn't really had a chance to prepare his defense.

James D. Ward:

--It is duplicative--

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

And so, if the defendant is sitting there at a preliminary hearing and he's pretty sure, or his counsel is, that he is going to be bound over, he is not going to, as Mr. Diaz did not, put on witnesses.

No, no, except both sides can fill in?

Joyce Ellen M. Reikes:

Mr. Diaz did not put on, not one witness.

James D. Ward:

--That is true.

He may not go all out to do the best he can to prevent himself from being bound over but he will at least hold that the magistrate determines there is no probable cause, don't he?