ZURCHER V. STANFORD DAILY, 436 U. S. 547 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Zurcher v. Stanford Daily, 436 U.S. 547 (1978)

Zurcher v. Stanford Daily

No. 76-1484

Argued January 17, 1978

Decided May 31, 1978*

436 U.S. 547


Respondents, a student newspaper that had published articles and photographs of a clash between demonstrators and police at a hospital, and staff members, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against, among others, petitioners, law enforcement and district attorney personnel, claiming that a search pursuant to a warrant issued on a judge's finding of probable cause that the newspaper (which was not involved in the unlawful acts) possessed photographs and negatives revealing the identities of demonstrators who had assaulted police officers at the hospital had deprived respondents of their constitutional rights. The District Court granted declaratory relief, holding that the Fourth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth forbade the issuance of a warrant to search for materials in possession of one not suspected of crime unless there is probable cause, based on facts presented in a sworn affidavit, to believe that a subpoena duces tecum would be impracticable. Failure to honor the subpoena would not, alone, justify issuance of a warrant; it would also have to appear that the possessor of the objects sought would disregard a court order not to remove or destroy them. The court also held that, where the innocent object of the search is a newspaper, First Amendment interests make the search constitutionally permissible

"only in the rare circumstance where there is a clear showing that (1) important materials will be destroyed or removed from the jurisdiction; and (2) a restraining order would be futile."

The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. A State is not prevented by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments from issuing a warrant to search for evidence simply because the owner or possessor of the place to be searched is not reasonably suspected of criminal involvement. The critical element in a reasonable search is not that the property owner is suspected of crime, but that there is reasonable cause to believe that the "things" to be searched for and seized are located on the property to which entry is sought. Pp. 436 U. S. 553-560.

2. The District Court's new rule denying search warrants against third

Page 436 U. S. 548

parties and insisting on subpoenas would undermine law enforcement efforts, since search warrants are often used early in an investigation before all the perpetrators of a crime have been identified, and the seemingly blameless third party may be implicated. The delay in employing a subpoena duces tecum could easily result in disappearance of the evidence. Nor would the cause of privacy be served, since search warrants are more difficult to obtain than subpoenas. Pp. 436 U. S. 560-563.

3. Properly administered, the preconditions for a search warrant (probable cause, specificity with respect to the place to be searched and the things to be seized, and overall reasonableness), which must be applied with particular exactitude when First Amendment interests would be endangered by the search, are adequate safeguards against the interference with the press' ability to gather, analyze, and disseminate news that respondents claim would ensue from use of warrants for third-party searches of newspaper offices. Pp. 436 U. S. 563-567.

550 F.2d 464, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 436 U. S. 568. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 436 U. S. 570. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 436 U. S. 577. BRENNAN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Page 436 U. S. 549

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