A public trial is a legal trial held in a court made open to members of the public. Anyone may enter such a trial and observe, assuming there is room in the court, and people can follow information about trial proceedings in the media. In some cases, such trials may be broadcast if there is intense public interest and there are concerns about accommodating all the spectators. This is in contrast with a closed trial, where proceedings are open only to those involved.
In some regions of the world, a public trial is considered a human right. In the United States, for example, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution includes a clause stating that people are entitled to a public trial. In other nations, people may be subject to closed trials. The term “public trial” has also come to be associated in some countries with a show or sham trial, where trial proceedings are publicized but it is clear to everyone that the trial is being conducted for show, not with the goal of trying the facts in a case.
There are certain restrictions on who may attend a public trial. People on the witness list are usually not allowed in the courtroom until after they have testified, out of concern that they may adjust their testimony or be influenced by other witnesses. People must also behave respectfully at a public trial. Weapons are not allowed in the court and people who are disruptive, such as people who interrupt proceedings or attempt to intimidate witnesses, can be escorted out of the court on the order of the judge. People who disturb trials can also be charged and subjected to fines.
Judges may also decide to clear the court in certain situations. Rape trials are often closed due to concerns about decency and confidentiality for the victim. If there is a credible threat to one or more parties in the trial, the court can also be closed, and juvenile cases are tried in closed sessions for privacy reasons. When judges want to clear the court or close a trial entirely, they must be able to show clear cause. Failure to do so may be considered a breach of the defendant's legal rights and could result in a mistrial.
Because there is often intense public interest in a trial, people may be required to reserve seats at the trial if they wish to attend, and blocks of seats may be held for certain parties, like the family of the defendant. People who wish to attend a public trial should contact the court ahead of time to learn about any restrictions and to confirm the date, time, and location of the trial so they show up in the right place.