Note: This page covers information specific to Michigan. 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 Michigan 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 Michigan 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 and a statutory right to attend all stages of criminal trials in Michigan state courts. See Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia; 448 U.S. 555, 580 (1980), Mich. Comp. Laws 600.1420. This includes the preliminary hearing and the jury selection process.
However, there are times when you will not be able to attend a criminal trial proceeding. Under the Michigan statute, if you are a minor, you may not be able to attend court proceedings involving "scandal or immorality." Id. Additionally, 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 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. See Mich. Comp. Laws 767.19f.
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 should be able to attend juvenile proceedings in Michigan. However, you may be excluded during the testimony of a child witness or during the testimony of the victim if a party or the victim requests it. The court will consider the nature of the proceedings; the age, maturity, and preference of the witness; and, if the witness is a child, the preference of a parent, guardian, or legal custodian that the proceedings be open or closed. If the juvenile is accused of certain serious crimes, the court may not close the hearing during his testimony. Mich. Ct. R. 3.925.
You have a statutory right to attend civil proceedings in Michigan. Mich. Comp. Laws 600.1420. However, this right is not absolute. For example, the statute specifically exempts cases involving national security. When deciding whether to close the courtroom, a judge must at least "take testimony at a hearing open to all interested parties, explore the constitutional and statutory validity of any proffered justifications for excluding the public and press from any portion of the trial, and determine whether any alternative and less restrictive mechanisms exist." Detroit Free Press v. Macomb Circuit Judge, 275 N.W.2d 482, 484 (Mich. 1979).