Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Company

RESPONDENT: Daily Mail Publishing Company
LOCATION: Adult Store

DOCKET NO.: 78-482
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

CITATION: 443 US 97 (1979)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1979

Cletus B. Hanley - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Floyd Abrams - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

A West Virginia statute made it a crime for a newspaper to publish, without approval of juvenile court, the name of any youth charged as a juvenile offender.


Did the law violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1979 in Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Company

Warren E. Burger:

Justice Stewart.

We’ll hear arguments first this morning in number 482, Robert K. Smith against the Daily Mail Publishing Company.

Mr. Hanley, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Cletus B. Hanley:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a case in which on February 9, 1978, a shooting occurred in the City of St. Albans, West Virginia, that’s about 12 miles from Charleston, the capital city and it’s in a metropolitan area there at West Virginia, (Inaudible).

It was about 250,000 people.

And a 14-year-old boy was apprehended and taken into custody.

Later on that day, a juvenile hearing was held and he was declared a delinquent under our West Virginia law.

It’s against the statute of West Virginia for a newspaper to print the name of a juvenile who was under arrest or pending a hearing.

On the next day, on February 10th, the Charleston Gazette, a statewide newspaper in West Virginia published the name of the juvenile on the front page along with a picture.

And also, an editorial made comment that they were deliberately doing this.

They were the Gazette, wait a minute, then the Daily Mail, an afternoon newspaper, published the name that afternoon.

These -- both of these newspapers along with the editors and reporters were indicted by a Kanawha County Grand Jury later on in the month.

Before trial could be held, the newspapers sought provision in the Supreme Court of West Virginia and a rule was issued on both newspapers.

Separate rules were issued on both newspapers putting the case before our Supreme Court for argument.

The cases were then consolidated for arguments and I want to point out to the Court mainly today that these cases, the fact situations are different.

In the Gazette case, they alleged in their petition that it was already common knowledge when they printed this juvenile’s name.

In the answer of the state, it was denied that this was.

The Gazette newspaper then demurred to the answer so for all practical purposes, they were then saying for the purpose of this case, it was not common knowledge.

And the information was not obtained from any other source from hearing or from assistant prosecuting attorney which I noted in the brief, it now says that it’s in prosecuting attorney.

So the bare issue then is whether a newspaper may print the name of a juvenile when they sought the information and obtained it on their own.

The statute doesn’t make any distinction between the case where it’s common knowledge and one where it’s not, does it?

Cletus B. Hanley:

No, Your Honor.

However --

That’s a criminal statute, isn’t it?

Cletus B. Hanley:

Yes, sir.

However, the -- I want to point that out because of the past case law of this Court indicating where the information is obtained by court records as in the Cox case where the information is obtained at a public hearing the Nebraska case or when the information is obtained in a closed hearing where the court allowed the press in.

That one makes a big distinction so what I’m saying to the Court, this is a case now of first impression and it’s not a case of a fitting in with the Cox or Nebraska or the Oklahoma case.

If the case fits in for anything, it fits in with the Virgin Island case.

Of course that’s our contention this is the reasoning in the (Inaudible) case should be adopted by this Court.