Note: This page covers information specific to Georgia. 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 Georgia 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 Georgia 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 all stages of criminal trials. See Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 (1980); see also Rockdale Citizen Publishing Co., Inc. v. State, 463 S.E.2d 864, 866-67 (Ga. 1995). This includes the preliminary hearing and the jury selection process.
As in federal court, 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, 13-15 (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.
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 will likely not be able to attend juvenile proceedings in Georgia, as they are presumptively closed. O.C.G.A. 15-11-78(1). However, you may able to attend if the juvenile is accused of certain serious offenses, such as arson, attempted murder, kidnapping, and trafficking in illegal drugs or if the juvenile has been found delinquent previously. You also have the right to challenge any denial of access by arguing that the state's or juveniles' interest in a closed hearing is overridden by the public's interest in a public hearing. See Florida Publishing Co. v. Morgan, 322 S.E.2d 233, 238 (Ga. 1984).
You will likely be able to attend civil trials in Georgia. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which includes Georgia, has ruled that there is a "presumption of openness to civil proceedings." Wilson v. American Motors Corp., 759 F.2d 1568, 1571 (11th Cir. 1985). If a trial court denies public access to the civil proceeding, the denial must be necessitated by a compelling interest and must be narrowly tailored to that interest.