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Zurcher v. Stanford Daily

United States Supreme Court
463 U.S. 547 (1978)



A reporter for the Stanford Daily (plaintiff) captured photographs of a violent confrontation between police and protesters at Stanford University Hospital. The county District Attorney (defendant) obtained a warrant to search the offices of the Stanford Daily for photographic materials providing evidence relevant to the circumstances of the confrontation. Officers searched various areas of the offices, including desks and trash cans, but did not open any locked doors or containers. Some members of the newspaper staff were present during the search. The staff members did not inform police that they were viewing confidential materials during some aspects of the search. The only evidence obtained from the search was the photographs taken by the reporter on the scene. The Stanford Daily filed suit in the federal district court seeking a declaratory judgment. The district court issued a rule that would have the effect of prohibiting the issuance of a search warrant when the subject of the search is not suspected of criminal activity, except in cases in which there is probable cause to believe that a subpoena duces tecum would not be obeyed and that evidence might be destroyed. The district court also held that First Amendment considerations supported a prohibition against the issuance of a warrant to search a newspaper office in most cases. The district court decision was affirmed on appeal and the county District Attorney petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s rule restricting the issuance of a search warrant and proceeded to consider the First Amendment implications of the search.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

Concurrence (Powell, J.)

Dissent (Stewart, J.)

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