Appeals court says that hearing in murder case can be secret

April 26, 2017

The Third District Court of Appeal in Florida ruled on April 26, 207, that a pre-trial hearing in a Florida murder case can be held in secret, siding with a Miami-Dade Circuit Judge’s ruling to close a bond hearing for two defendants, citing “pervasive publicity” as a threat to their right to fair trial. 

Miami Herald and WPLG-ABC10 opposed the closure and, in a brief filed to the Third DCA, argued: “That hearings of such magnitude and public importance should be held in secret and outside the presence of the public is unconstitutional.”

The appellate court affirmed “evidence of extensive local, national and international print and broadcast media coverage of the instant case,” which jeopardized the defendant's’ right to a fair trial.

“The speed of dissemination and the high percentage of likely jurors with access to social media and the internet also support the trial judge’s concern,” the opinion states. “The Closure Order is a temporary ruling subject to reconsideration as to subsequent hearings and the trial itself.. Following our review of the petitioners’ requests, the records themselves, and the trial court’s analysis, we find no departure from the essential requirements of law.”

Scott Ponce, a lawyer for the Miami Herald, said, “The courtroom belongs to the public, and it’s difficult to accept that the public is being kicked out of a hearing during which the judge will consider whether two people indicted for first-degree murder should be released into public pending trial.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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