Everything online journalists need to protect their legal rights. This free resource culls from all Reporters Committee resources and includes exclusive content on digital media law issues.
This project is the most detailed examination available of the reporter's privilege in every state and federal circuit. It is presented primarily as an Internet document, for greater flexibility in how it can be used. Read up on your state's privilege, or search every state based on one of the outline points or any keyword.
Every state and federal section is based on the same standard outline, which appears in the left pane of the screen when you select the browse option. The outline starts with the basics of the privilege, then the procedure and law for quashing a subpoena, and concludes with appeals and a handful of other issues.
There will be some variations on the standard outline. Some contributors added items within the outline, or omitted subpoints found in the complete outline which were not relevant to that state's law. Each change was made to fit the needs of a particular state's laws and practices.
For our many readers who are not lawyers. This project is primarily here to allow lawyers to fight subpoenas issued to journalists, but it is also designed to help journalists understand the reporter's privilege. (Journalists should not assume that use of this book will take the place of consulting an attorney before dealing with a subpoena. You should contact a lawyer if you have been served with a subpoena.) Although the guides were written by lawyers, we hope they are useful to and readable by nonlawyers as well. However, some of the elements of legal writing may be unfamiliar to lay readers. A quick overview of some of these customs should suffice to help you over any hurdles.
Lawyers are trained to give a legal citation for most statements of law. The name of a court case or number of a statute may therefore be tacked on to the end of a sentence. This may look like a sentence fragment, or may leave you wondering if some information about that case was omitted. Nothing was left out; inclusion of a legal citation provides a reference to the case or statute supporting the statement and provides a shorthand method of identifying that authority, should you need to locate it.
Legal citation form also indicates where the law can be found in official reporters or other legal digests. Typically, a cite to a court case will be followed by the volume and page numbers of a legal reporter. Most state cases will be found in the state reporter, a larger regional reporter, or both. A case cite reading 123 F.2d 456 means the case could be found in the Federal Reports, second series, volume 123, starting at page 456. In most states, the cites will be to the official reporter of state court decisions or to the West Publishers regional reporter that covers that state.
Note that the complete citation for a case is often given only once, and subsequent cites look like this: "Jackson at 321." This means that the author is referring you to page 321 of a case cited earlier that includes the name Jackson. Because this outlines were written for each state, yet searches and comparisons result in various states and sections being taken out of the sequence in which they were written, it may not always be clear what these second references refer to. Authors may also use the words supra or infra to refer to a discussion of a case appearing earlier or later in the outline, respectively. You may have to work backwards through that state's outline to find the first reference in some cases.
We have encouraged the authors to avoid "legalese" to make this guide more accessible to everyone. But many of the issues are necessarily technical and procedural, and removing all the legalese would make the guides less useful to lawyers who are trying to get subpoenas quashed.
Updates. This project was first posted to the Web in December 2002. As individual items or entire outlines are updated, the copyright notice on the bottom of the page will reflect the date of the update. All outlines will not be updated on the same schedule.