Thursday, March 6, 2014
Legal scholars today criticize the lack of public participation in the criminal justice system as a barrier to democratic accountability, legitimacy, and fairness. When searching for solutions, these critiques bypass consideration of the audience members who attend criminal court each day – people who fill courtrooms to watch the cases in which their friends, family, and community members have been either victimized or accused of a crime. This is a mistake, for the constitutional function of the audience is one uniquely suited to help restore public participation and accountability in a world without juries.
The Constitution protects the democratic function of the local audience through both the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial and the First Amendment right of the public to attend criminal court. This Article argues that these rights apply with full force in the routine criminal courtroom, in which arraignments, pleas, and sentencings, rather than trials, are taking place.