Note: This page covers information specific to Texas. 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 Texas 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 Texas judiciary's website to find the locations, phone numbers, and websites for the state's District Courts, Courts of Appeal, Supreme Court, and Court of Criminal Appeals. This pages focuses on your ability to access certain types of proceedings.
You have the same First Amendment right to attend all stages of criminal trials as you do in federal court. See Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580(1980). This includes the preliminary hearing and the jury selection process.
You may be denied access to the courtroom if there would otherwise be a serious and imminent threat to the administration of justice. 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. However, if the trial court closes the proceeding, the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect the interest of the accused and closure must be an effective way to protect the accused's rights. There must be no alternative available other than change of venue. See generally Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Ct., 478 U.S. 1 (1986).
Grand Jury Proceedings
As in federal court, 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 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 20.011, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 20.02.
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 most juvenile hearings in Texas. Proceedings are public unless the court determines that there is good cause to close them. However, if the juvenile is under the age of 14, you will not be able to attend unless the court finds that the interests of the child or the interests of the public would be better served by opening the hearing. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 54.08.
In general, you should be able to attend civil proceedings, which are presumptively open to the public, in Texas state courts. A civil proceeding may only be closed when the denial of access serves an important interest and that there is no less restrictive way to serve that interest. See Publicker Indus. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1070 (3d Cir. 1984).