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Zurcher v. Stanford Daily


During a civil disturbance, a group of demonstrators attacked a group of nine police officers. One officer was knocked to the ground and was struck repeatedly on the head. Another officer suffered a broken shoulder. All nine were injured. The officers were only able to identify two of their assailants, but one saw a photographer recording the assault. A special edition of the Stanford Daily (Daily), a student newspaper published at Stanford University, carried articles and photographs devoted to the protest. The photographs carried the byline of a Daily staff member and indicated that he had been in the area of the assault on the nine officers. A warrant was issued for an immediate search of the Daily’s offices for negatives, film, and pictures showing the events at the demonstration.


Whether the newspaper’s reasonable expectation of privacy is also protected by a First Amendment “freedom of the press” protection from the government intrusion?


No. Organizations involved in traditional First Amendment activities are not provided extra constitutional protections.


A search of the premises of a newspaper is not unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and does not violate the First Amendment. There is no constitutional requirement that when the innocent party of a search is a newspaper, criminal evidence must generally be secured through a subpoena duces tecum rather than a search warrant. Where the government seeks materials presumptively protected by the First Amendment, the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment should be administered to leave as little as possible to the discretion or whim of the officer in the field.

NOTE: This decision led to the enactment of 42 U.S.C. § 2000aa (Privacy Protection Act) that places some additional burdens on government officials attempting to secure a search warrant of premises traditionally operated in First Amendment activities.


436 U.S. 547, 98 S. Ct. 1970 (1978)

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