Note: This page covers information specific to Illinois. For general information concerning access to and use of court proceedings see the Access to Courts and Court Records section of this guide.
This page focuses on your ability to access state court proceedings in Illinois. You may wish to also familiarize yourself with the Illinois State Bar Association's Media Law Handbook to better understand your rights of access to the Illinois state court system.
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). 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. You may also be excluded from a trial alleging certain sexually based offenses when a minor victim testifies. In Illinois, the judge has the ability to close the courtroom to everyone but the media during such testimony. 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/115-11. Note that at least one judge has found that bloggers do not meet the definition of media in a similar context in juvenile proceedings, see the discussion on juvenile proceedings below.
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. 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/112-6.
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
It is not clear whether you will be able to attend juvenile procedures in Illinois. Although general public is excluded from all hearings in juvenile court, the members of the news media are allowed to attend. 705 Ill. Comp. Stat. 405/1-5(6). However, at least one juvenile court judge has held that bloggers are not members of the news media for purposes of this law. See the Citizen Media Law Project's blog on Bloggers Are Not Journalists, Illinois Juvenile Court Judge Declares. Note that even if you are allowed to attend the proceeding, your attendance may be contingent on your agreement not to divulge information identifying the child.
You will likely be able to attend civil proceedings, which are "open to the public ... by force of tradition." A.P. v. M.E.E., 821 N.E.2d 1238, 1245 (Ill. App. Ct. 2004).