Public Access to Criminal Proceedings

The Indiana General Assembly outlined its policy on public access to courts dealing with criminal cases with the Public Access to Criminal Proceedings Act, found at IC 5-14-2. The legislation was passed in 1982.

The presumption is that criminal proceedings are open to attendance by the general public. This presumption does not include the deliberations of juries or omnibus hearings unless witnesses are giving testimony.

If the prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge desires to close a portion of the criminal proceeding to public attendance, the judge is required to set a hearing on the motion or proposed order. There must be given sufficient time for the parties or members of the general public to prepare pleadings and evidence, and file briefs addressing the motion or proposed order (See IC 5-14-2-4). Notice of the hearing must be posted in the court building in an area accessible to the public.

If there is an objection to the closure, then the moving party or the judge if it proposed to close the proceedings, must prove by clear and convincing evidence that:

  • Dissemination of information from the particular proceeding would pose a serious and imminent danger to the defendant's rights;
  • The prejudicial effect created by such dissemination cannot be avoided by any reasonable alternative means; and
  • The exclusion of the public will effectively protect against the perceived harm.

If the court finds the burden has been met, the motion or order may be granted, but the exclusion can extend no further than reasonably required by the circumstances and must be temporary. The court must make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law to support a ruling to exclude the public. (See IC 5-14-2-6)

The statute states that judges maintain the inherent power to make limited exclusions of witnesses, to relieve overcrowding, protect the order and decorum of the courtroom, or exclude individuals whose presence poses a direct threat to the safety of spectators, parties, or witnesses.

The statute allows any party or member of the general public aggrieved by the ruling of the court on the issue of exclusion to bring an original action before the Indiana Supreme Court to contest the ruling. (See IC 5-14-2-8)