Why Your Criminal Trial Might Be Private
Criminal trials are usually public — but there are exceptions to the rule. Below are some of the reasons your trial might be private.
Courts frequently opt for private criminal proceedings in cases where a public trial would create safety and security concerns. Such a decision is highly likely if a public trial would harm innocent parties, such as witnesses or crime victims.
Consider a case where a local gang routinely retaliates against witnesses who testify against its members. A criminal court may elect to try members of the gang behind closed doors so that the gang cannot identify and retaliate against the witnesses.
Some forms of evidence in criminal proceedings are indecent. Think of the forms of evidence that can come up in sexual assault cases, child pornography trials, or cannibalism cases. Showing graphic nudity or injuries to the public would cause more harm than good. Courts tend to hold such cases in private chambers to preserve public decency and the decency parties to the cases.
A court can also opt for a private trial if it is concerned about the privacy of the parties to the court. This decision is highly possible in cases that touch upon the private lives of criminal defendants, victims, and even witnesses.
The decision is also common in cases that involve young children. For children, the rationale is that public disclosure of facts can hurt their future wellbeing.
Consider a case where the state accuses someone of sexually molesting a child. The trial court may opt for a closed trial so that it can seal the private information, such as the identity of the child victim.
Lastly, cases that involve highly sensitive information also tend to take place behind closed doors. In this context, highly sensitive information includes those that can endanger public safety, national security, or those whose leakage would defeat the purpose of the trial.
For example, a criminal case that might reveal the identity of undercover agents will take place behind closed doors. A public trial of such a case would risk the lives of the undercover agents. Another example is a case that involves the leakage of trade secrets. Trying such a case in public would end up revealing the same secrets that the court wanted to protect.
Tell your criminal defense lawyer about any concerns about public or private trials. The lawyer will evaluate the circumstances of your case and advise you on how to achieve your objectives.
For more information, reach out to a local criminal defense attorney.