Citation. 408 U.S. 665, 92 S. Ct. 2646, 33 L. Ed. 2d 626, 1972 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
Two different reporters refuse to answer grand jury questions, which required the identification of their confidential sources.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
News reporters are not exempt from appearing before a grand jury and answering questions.
Branzburg (Petitioner) was a staff reporter for a daily Louisville newspaper. He authored an article describing the production of marijuana. The article ran in the paper and included a picture of hands processing hashish. Petitioner promised not to reveal the processors but was subpoenaed before a grand jury to reveal the sources. He refused.
Pappas (Petitioner) televised a speech given by a Black Panther leader from their headquarters. Petitioner was given unrestricted access to the facility in exchange for agreeing not to disclose anything he saw or heard while there. He was permitted to report on an anticipated police raid. He was later subpoenaed and refused to testify.
Is it unconstitutional to require news reporters to disclose the identity of their sources before a grand jury?
No. There is no restraint on speech or publication caused by this law. The integrity of confidential relationships remains as they always have been except when the interrogation involves criminal activity by the source.
The reporter has a right to a confidential relationship with the source that is supported by public interest in the marketplace of information. The right to confidentiality must be recognized in cases when an informant is required to gather the news, when confidentiality is essential to data capture, and when absence of constitutional protection of the relationship will deter publication of information.
Concurrence. News reporters may still safeguard sources by appropriate use of a protective order or a motion to quash the subpoena.
To force identification is to restrict speech because informants will be less likely to speak when they know they will be exposed. But, there is no restraint on speech at all. Reporters are free to publish whatever they choose. The United States Constitution does not support the notion of an idle bystander to a crime. If one knows something, then he is obligated to aid justice.