The Missouri Supreme Court has ordered a St. Louis judge to allow the public and news media into juvenile court hearings for a 12-year-old accused of killing her 9-year-old sister in what police say was an argument over a hamburger, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The opinion overturnder an order that barred the public from all but the final hearing in the case. Under Missouri law, juvenile court proceedings are closed unless the youth is charged with a crime that would be a serious felony in adult court. The girl’s equivalent charge, first-degree murder, qualifies.
Judges can still deny access if they believe it would adversely affect the child’s right to a fair trial or would be contrary to his or her best interests. In this case, Circuit Judge Jack Garvey wrote, “Media in the courtroom will possibly have an effect on mother’s ability to assist daughter in her defense, and this is not in the best interest of the child.” On March 29, a three-judge appeals panel said the public does not have the right to attend “all proceedings” in juvenile court, only the adjudicatory hearing – the juvenile equivalent of a trial. That decision gave family court judges wide latitude to decide when to admit the public and the news media.