Note: This page covers information specific to Florida. 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 Florida. You may wish to also familiarize yourself with the Florida Bar Association's Reporter's Handbook to better understand your rights of access to the Florida state court system.
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); See also Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Lewis, 426 So. 2d 1, 3 (Fla. 1982). 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); Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Lewis, 426 So. 2d 1, 6 (Fla. 1982).
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 Fla. Stat. 905.24.
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 able to attend juvenile proceedings in Florida. Juvenile proceedings must be open to the public unless the judge determines the public interest and the welfare of the child are best served by closure. Fla. Stat. 985.035.
There is a "strong presumption of openness" for civil trials in Florida. Barron v. Florida Freedom Newspapers, 531 So. 2d 113, 118-19 (Fla. 1988). A judge will only hold a closed civil trial in limited circumstances. For example, you may excluded from the trial to keep trade secrets safe, to protect national security, and to avoid substantial injury to innocent third parties, such as children in a divorce case. Moreover, the trial court will only close the proceedings if there is no reasonable alternative to closure and the closure is the least restrictive form necessary.
Other State Courts
You may be able to attend some Family Court proceedings. Custody and other dependency proceedings are presumptively open, unless the judge determines the public interest or the welfare of the child is best served by closing the hearing. Fla. Stat. 39.507(2). However, adoption proceedings in Florida are closed, Fla. Stat. 63.162, as are proceedings to terminate parental rights, Fla. Stat. 39.809(4).