Estes v. Texas 381 U.S. 532 (1965)

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ESTES v. TEXAS 381 U.S. 532 (1965)

The trial of Billy Sol Estes for swindling involved a free press / fair trial confrontation in which the Supreme Court held that televising trials was inherently prejudicial to a fair trial. Circuslike live television and radio broadcasts of Estes's pretrial hearings involved such extensive disruption of the courtroom that many changes were ordered for coverage of the trial. Although live broadcasts of the actual trial were forbidden, excerpts from the proceedings were broadcast regularly.

The Court split 5–4 on the constitutionality of televising the proceedings. Justices hugo l. black, william j. brennan, potter stewart, and byron r. white called the practice unwise and dangerous, but not constitutionally objectionable. Chief Justice earl warren and Justices arthur j. goldberg and william o. douglas joined an opinion by Justice tom c. clark seeking to ban television completely from the courts—subject to future developments (see chandler v. florida)—as a violation of the right to a fair trial. Both the jury and the witnesses, Clark declared, would be under great pressure and be more self-conscious, aware of a large public audience; prospective witnesses might be influenced by the proceedings. The judge would have additional responsibilities (and temptations), and the defendant would be subject to "a form of mental—if not physical—harassment." Clark said, "A defendant on trial for a specific crime is entitled to his day in court, not in a stadium, or a city or nationwide arena." Justice john marshall harlan approved the ban here, but indicated he would do so only in cases of "great notoriety."

David Gordon