Note: This page covers information specific to New York. 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 New York 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 New York judiciary's website to find the locations, phone numbers, and websites for the state's courts. This pages focuses on your ability to access certain types of 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. In addition, there is a strong presumption toward public trials under New York statutory law. N.Y. Jud. Law 4.
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.
If the trial court closes the proceeding, 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 N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 190.25(4)(a).
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.
Juvenile Court Proceedings
You may be refused access to juvenile proceedings in New York. N.Y. Family Ct. Act 341.1. However, if the judge determines that the case warrants closure, you may be denied access. The judge will consider, among other factors, if you are causing or are likely to cause a disruption, if a party objects to your presence for a compelling reason, if the orderly and sound administration of justice requires your exclusion, and if less restrictive alternatives are available.
In general, you should be able to attend civil proceedings, which are presumptively open to the public, in New York state courts. N.Y. Jud. Law 4. However, your right to attend is not absolute; your access to civil proceeding may be restricted when there are compelling reasons for closure. Westmoreland v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 752 F.2d 16, 23 (2d Cir. 1984).
Other State Courts
You should be able to attend family court proceedings in New York as there is a presumption that family court proceedings in New York are public. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22, 205.4 (search for "22 NYCRR 205.4"). However, if the judge determines that the case warrants closure, you may be denied access. The judge will consider, among other factors, if you are causing or are likely to cause a disruption, if a party objects to your presence for a compelling reason, if the orderly and sound administration of justice requires your exclusion, and if less restrictive alternatives are available. For example, the judge may close the courtroom if he determines potential trauma to children would result from your presence.