Main content

Judiciary Provides Public, Media Access to Electronic Court Proceedings

Media organizations and the public will be able to access certain criminal proceedings conducted by videoconference or teleconference for the duration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, according to new guidance provided to federal courts.

The communication to courts on April 2 expands on previous guidance that permits judges to authorize public and media access to electronic civil case proceedings. Many courts have taken emergency steps to protect the health and safety of judges, court staff, the parties to cases, attorneys, and the public by closing or severely restricting entry to courthouses and courtrooms.  

The recently enacted “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act) allows chief judges to authorize the use of video or telephone conferencing in certain criminal proceedings during the course of the COVID-19 emergency and with the consent of defendants.

This authorization is interpreted to permit courts to include the usual participants and observers of such proceedings by remote access. This includes not only defendants, lawyers, probation and pretrial services officers, and court personnel, but also others who normally participate in or observe such criminal proceedings, including victims, family members, the public, and the press.         

The CARES Act and this new temporary authorization apply only to access through videoconference and teleconference. Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 continues to prohibit broadcasting of court proceedings generally, such as through live streaming on the internet. Individuals who improperly record or rebroadcast federal court proceedings conducted by video may be subject to penalties.

The remote access authority granted by the CARES Act will expire 30 days after the date on which the national emergency ends, or the date the Judicial Conference determines that the federal courts are no longer materially affected by COVID-19, whichever is earlier.