Access to Arizona Court Proceedings

Note: This page covers information specific to Arizona. For general information concerning access to and use of court proceedings see the Access to Courts and Court Records section of this guide.

You have a right to attend most court proceedings in Arizona state courts. However, your right of access is not absolute, and a court can restrict your access under certain circumstances. If you are interested in attending a court proceeding, visit the Arizona judiciary's website to find the locations, phone numbers, and websites for the state's Superior Courts, Courts of Appeal Division I and Division II, and Supreme Court. This page focuses on your ability to access certain types of proceedings.

Criminal Proceedings

Trial Proceedings

You have a First Amendment right to attend criminal trials, Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 (1980). This includes the preliminary hearing and the jury selection process, but might not include other pre-trial proceedings. The Arizona state constitution also provides a right of access to court proceedings. See Ariz. Const., art. 2, § 11 and art. 6, § 17; Ridenour v. Schwartz, 179 Ariz. 1, 3 (1994).

You may be denied access to the courtroom if a party seeking to close the hearing has an overriding interest that is likely to prejudiced and the closure is narrowly tailored to protect that interest. For example, the court may exclude you if the media's presence will deprive the defendant of her right to a fair trial because media coverage will influence the jury.

Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.3 provides specifically that “[a]ll proceedings shall be open to the public, include representatives of the news media, unless the court finds, upon application of the defendant, that an open proceeding presents a clear and present danger to the defendant's right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.” See also Phoenix Newspapers v. Jennings, 107 Ariz. 557, 560 (1971). Rule 9.3 also requires that a “complete record” of any closed proceedings be kept and made available to the public following the completion of the case.

If the trial court closes a proceeding to which there is a First Amendment right of access, the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect the interest of the party asserting the need for closure. The court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the proceeding, and it must make findings adequate to support the closure. See generally Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Ct., 478 U.S. 1 (1986).

Grand Jury Proceedings

You will not be able to attend grand jury proceedings. These are proceedings in which the prosecutor presents evidence before a group of jurors who will determine if there is a sufficient basis to bring criminal charges against a person. Grand jury proceedings are held in secret and are not considered to be a part of the criminal trial process. See A.R.S. § 13-2812.

Other Proceedings and Conferences

You will not be able to access a few other hearings that have traditionally been closed to the public. These include “side-bar” or “in-chambers” conferences between the lawyers and the judge, and plea-bargaining sessions between the prosecutor and the defendant.

Civil Proceedings

In general, you should be able to attend civil proceedings, which are presumptively open to the public, in Arizona state courts. See Lewis R. Pyle Memorial Hosp. v. Superior Court, 149 Ariz. 193, 197 (1986) (“There is no doubt that there exists a common law right of access to civil trials.”); Ariz. R. Civ. P. 43(f) (“In all trials the testimony of witnesses shall be taken orally in open court, unless otherwise provided by these rules or the Arizona Rules of Evidence.”). A civil proceeding may only be closed if there is "a compelling governmental interest and [the closure is] narrowly tailored to serve that interest." Ridenour, 179 Ariz. at 3.  But if the closure is only temporary, "it may be sustained if it is reasonable and neutral." Id.

Juvenile Court Proceedings

You may be able to attend certain kinds of juvenile proceedings in Arizona.

Arizona Rule of Juvenile Procedure 19 provides that “[d]elinquency, incorrigibility, diversion involving delinquent acts and transfer proceedings shall be open to the public” unless the court makes a written finding that closure is necessary to protect the best interests of a victim, the juvenile, a witness, or the state, or that there is “a clear public interest in confidentiality.” Upon request of any person that the proceeding be closed, the court must hold a hearing prior to the proceeding to consider the positions of the parties. See Rules of Procedure for the Juvenile Court.

A.R.S. § 8-525 provides that court proceedings relating to dependent children, permanent guardianship, termination of parental rights, and child abuse and neglect cases that have resulted in a fatality or near fatality are open to the public. However, “[f]or good cause shown,” the court may order any proceeding to be closed to the public. The court must consider a variety of factors, include the child’s best interests, the privacy rights of the parties or other individuals, the agreement of the parties, and the preferences of a child over 12. If a hearing is open, attendees are still prohibited from disclosing identifying information about the child, the child’s siblings, parents, and certain other individuals. See also Ariz. R. Juv. P. 41.

Finally, emancipation hearings are open to the public unless the court finds in writing that closing the hearing is necessary “to protect a party, or a clear public interest in confidentiality.” Ariz. R. Juv. P. 92.


Subject Area: