Note: This page covers information specific to Ohio. 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 Ohio 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 Ohio 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 criminal trials, Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580(1980). This includes the preliminary hearing and the jury selection process. This right is also protected by the Ohio Constitution. Ohio Const. art. I, § 16; see also State v. Lane, 397 N.E.2d 1338 (Ohio 1979).
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 (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. Ohio R. Crim. P. 6(e).
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 have a right to attend serious youthful offender proceedings are open to the public. A presiding judge, may in her discretion, excluded the general public from attending all other juvenile court proceeding. However, even if the general public is excluded, you may still be able to gain access if you can demonstrate your need for access is sufficient to outweigh the interest in keeping the hearing closed. Ohio Rev. Code § 2151.35; Ohio Juv. R. 27(1).
In general, you should be able to attend civil proceedings, which are presumptively open to the public, in Ohio state courts. However, the right is not absolute; a judge may choose to close the proceedings in certain situations, including those where certain privacy rights of participants or third parties are at stake, trade secrets could be revealed, or national security is involved. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. FTC, 710 F.2d 1165, 1177-78 (6th Cir. 1983).