Branzburg v. Hayes Case Brief

Facts of the case

After observing and interviewing a number of people synthesizing and using drugs in a two-county area in Kentucky, Branzburg, a reporter, wrote a story which appeared in a Louisville newspaper. On two occasions he was called to testify before state grand juries which were investigating drug crimes. Branzburg refused to testify and potentially disclose the identities of his confidential sources. Similarly, in the companion cases of In re Pappas and United States v. Caldwell, two different reporters, each covering activity within the Black Panther organization, were called to testify before grand juries and reveal trusted information. Like Branzburg, both Pappas and Caldwell refused to appear before their respective grand juries.

Why is the case important?

After being requested to testify in front of grand juries as to the identities and activities of their confidential sources, three journalists unsuccessfully claimed that the identity of their confidential sources was protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Question

Whether requiring newsmen to appear and testify in front of grand juries about information they received in confidence violates their rights to freedom of speech and press under the First Amendment of the Constitution?

ANSWER

No. News gathering qualifies for First Amendment constitutional protection. However, these cases involve no intrusions upon speech or assembly and no penalty, civil or criminal, related to the content of the material is at issue here. The great weight of authority is that newsmen are not exempt from the normal duty of appearing before a grand jury and answering questions relevant to a criminal investigation. We cannot interpret the First Amendment of the Constitution to grant newsmen a testimonial privilege that other citizens do not enjoy. The requirement that a state’s interest must be “compelling and paramount” to justify even an indirect burden on First Amendment constitutional rights are met here. The investigation of a crime by the grand jury implements a governmental fundamental role of securing the safety of the person and property of the citizen. Further, the state has the necessary interests in extirpating the trafficking of drugs etc. and these reporters could supply
information to aid the government in addressing these interests. Therefore, requiring newsmen to appear and testify in front of grand juries about information that they received in confidence does not violate their rights to freedom of speech and press.

CONCLUSION

The Court held that the First Amendment does not relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation that all citizens have to respond to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, and therefore the Amendment does not afford him a constitutional testimonial privilege for an agreement he makes to conceal facts relevant to a grand jury’s investigation of a crime or to conceal the criminal conduct of his source or evidence thereof.

  • Advocates: Edgar A. Zingman Argued the cause for the petitioner William Bradford Reynolds Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance Edwin A. Schroering, Jr. Argued the cause for the respondents John T. Corrigan for the National District Attorneys Association urging reversal in No. 70 57 and affirmance in No. 70—94
  • Petitioner: Branzburg
  • Respondent: Hayes
  • DECIDED BY:Burger Court
  • Location: The (Louisville) Courier Journal
Citation: 408 US 665 (1972)
Argued: Feb 23, 1972
Decided: Jun 29, 1972
Branzburg v. Hayes Case Brief