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. In addition, there is a strong presumption toward public trials under New York statutory law. N.Y. Jud. Law 4.
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.
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.
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.
When someone is arrested in New York, the law requires that the arrested person be brought before a judge for arraignment within 24 hours of arrest absent good cause. At the arraignment, the judge will decide whether to release the defendant while the case is pending, or to keep the defendant in jail until the case is resolved.
The judge can decide to release a defendant on his or her own recognizance – in other words, a defendant’s promise to return to court on the date set by the court. Alternatively, the judge could set an amount of bail to ensure the defendant’s return. The amount of bail set will depend on a combination of several different factors, including, among other things: the nature of the charges, a defendant’s prior criminal record, history of failing to appear in court, current address, employment, and ties to the community.