Reporter's Privilege

This section covers the use of subpoenas to force journalists to disclose their confidential news sources and unpublished information. Shield laws exist in forty states; if a reporter isn't covered by a shield law, there may still be a constitutional privilege that helps protect sources and information. This section also covers official attempts to seize journalists' work product and documents without a warrant.

Supreme Court requires police to obtain warrants before searching cell phones

Bradleigh Chance | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 25, 2014
News
June 25, 2014

The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in favor of digital privacy Wednesday that says police generally need a search warrant to examine an arrested person’s cell phone.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a sweeping opinion, stating that digital devices contain collections of potentially sensitive information. The Court rejected arguments that searching a cellphone is akin to examining anything else officers might find on someone they arrest.

“Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse,” Roberts wrote.

The opinion still allows police to search cell phones without warrants under “exigent circumstances.” This includes “ticking-bomb scenarios” or instances when there’s reason to believe evidence is going to be destroyed.

Media organizations urge Senate to vote on federal shield bill

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 13, 2014
News
June 13, 2014

Spurred by a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen – which could result in Risen going to jail or being fined for not naming his source – media organizations stress that now is the time to pass a federal shield bill.

More than 70 news organizations – the Reporters Committee included – sent a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders earlier this week, urging them to schedule a vote on the shield bill.

Supreme Court will not hear Risen's appeal over subpoena in Sterling prosecution

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | June 2, 2014
News
June 2, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen, who has been subpoenaed to testify in a government leaks prosecution.

Risen could now face jail or fines if he refuses to testify.

Joel Kurtzberg, Risen’s attorney, said the ball is now in the government’s court. Risen was never held in contempt because the trial court initially ruled that he was protected by the reporter’s privilege and did not have to testify. An appellate court later reversed, and that decision now stands.

Therefore, the government will have to pursue Risen’s testimony again in trial court, Kurtzberg said.

“If they say they are going to do that, we will make clear that [Risen] is not going to testify and then there would have to be a contempt hearing,” Kurtzberg said.

Supreme Court won't hear Holmes appeal over Fox News reporter subpoena in Aurora theater shooting

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Reporter's Privilege | News | May 27, 2014
News
May 27, 2014

The Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of a New York ruling that said Fox News reporter Jana Winter did not have to testify in the Colorado murder trial of James Holmes, the accused Aurora theater shooter. The lower court’s opinion therefore still stands, and Winter will not be forced to testify.

The Colorado court wanted Winter to testify about the sources who gave her confidential information about a notebook Holmes sent to his psychiatrist before he opened fire in a Colorado movie theater in July 2012.

Reporters Committee files brief in support of Patch.com reporter ordered to reveal source of police report

Press Release | March 20, 2014
March 20, 2014
Reporters Committee files brief in support of Patch.com reporter ordered to reveal source of police report

The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of 38 other media organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief last week in support of a Patch.com reporter in Chicago who was ordered to testify about his confidential source in a murder trial.

Ohio Supreme Court declines to hold reporter in contempt for refusing to testify

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | March 19, 2014
News
March 19, 2014

The Ohio Supreme Court decided Monday not to hold a reporter in contempt of court for refusing to testify in a disciplinary hearing against an attorney.

While the case was poised to answer the question of whether the state's reporter's privilege applied in quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings, the state's high court did not squarely answer this question. Instead of issuing a full opinion, the court briefly announced that it was dismissing the case and denying the Akron Bar Association's request to hold the reporter in contempt.

Illinois v. McKee (Hosey subpoena)

March 14, 2014

Patch.com reporter Joseph Hosey was ordered to testify in an Illinois murder trial regarding the identity of his source who supplied him with a police report that contained details of the double murder. The judge in the trial court applied the state's shield law to Hosey but nonetheless deprived him of the privilege, finding that the identity of the source was relevant to the trial, alternative sources had been exhausted, and the information was essential to protect the public interest. When Hosey still refused to disclose his source, the judge fined him $1,000 plus $300 a day until he complied. Hosey appealed, and the fines are on hold pending resolution of the appeal. In this amicus brief, joined by 38 other media organizations, we argue that the Illinois reporter's privilege should protect Hosey from having to reveal his source in court. We emphasize the importance of crime reporting and why reporters must have access to reliable information from law enforcement sources.

Taking your shield with you

What the Jana Winter decision means for journalists reporting across state lines
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Cindy Gierhart

AP Photo

Jana Winter

Journalist Jana Winter’s win in New York’s highest court in December was undoubtedly a victory not just for her but for journalists everywhere. But just how will the court’s decision affect journalists, both inside and outside New York?

All shield laws are not created equal

Broadly, this case is about a battle between two states’ shield laws – sometimes called a reporter’s privilege – which protect journalists from having to reveal their sources in court.

Ohio bar association asks state Supreme Court to hold reporter in contempt

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | February 12, 2014
News
February 12, 2014

The Ohio Supreme Court is set to decide whether a reporter will be forced to testify in a lawyer’s disciplinary hearing.

While Ohio has a shield statute that protects journalists from having to reveal sources of information in court, the state has not yet determined whether the reporter’s privilege extends into quasi-judicial or administrative proceedings, according to court filings.

Bill to strengthen Colorado shield law fails in committee

Cindy Gierhart | Reporter's Privilege | News | January 30, 2014
News
January 30, 2014

A bill that would have strengthened the Colorado shield law did not garner sufficient votes in the state's Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward.

Republican state Sen. Bernie Herpin introduced the bill in response to Fox News reporter Jana Winter's recent subpoena to testify before a Colorado court in the case of James Holmes, on trial for the Aurora theater shooting.