Zurcher v. Stanford Daily

RESPONDENT:Stanford Daily
LOCATION:Channel Islands National Park

DOCKET NO.: 76-1484
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 436 US 547 (1978)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1978
DECIDED: May 31, 1978

Jerome B. Falk, Jr. – Argued the cause for the respondent in both cases
Robert K. Booth, Jr. – Argued the cause for the petitioners in Zurcher v. Stanford Daily
W. Eric Collins – Argued the cause for the petitioners in the related case, Bergna v. Stanford Daily

Facts of the case

In 1971, officers of the Palo Alto, California, Police Department obtained a warrant to search the main office of The Stanford Daily, the student newspaper at the university. It was believed that The Stanford Daily had pictures of a violent clash between a group of protesters and the police; the pictures were needed to identify the assailants. The officers searched The Daily’s photographic laboratories, filing cabinets, desks, and waste paper baskets, but no materials were removed from the office. This case was decided together with Bergna v. Stanford Daily, involving the district attorney and a deputy district attorney who participated in the obtaining of the search warrant.


Did the search of The Daily’s newsroom violate the First and Fourth Amendments?

Media for Zurcher v. Stanford Daily

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 17, 1978 in Zurcher v. Stanford Daily

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 31, 1978 in Zurcher v. Stanford Daily

Byron R. White:

The other announcement I have is — as Justice Brennan indicated is Zurcher against Stanford Daily number 76-1484 and Bergna against Stanford Daily, number 76-1600.

These cases are here on Writ of Certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Under traditional Fourth Amendment law, the Fourth Amendment has permitted warrants to search property on which there is probable cause to believe, there is located fruits, instrumentalities, or evidence of a crime regardless of who owns the property.

We are now asked to reconstrue the Fourth Amendment and to hold for the first time that when the place to be searched is occupied by a person not then suspected of a crime, that only in the most unusual circumstances should a search warrant be issued, rather it is suggested, a subpoena duces tecum should be employed.

This was the holding of the District Court which was adopted by the Court of Appeals.

We decline to adopt this rather sweeping revision of the Fourth Amendment and accordingly, have filed an opinion disagreeing with the Court of Appeals in this respect.

The lower courts also held that whatever the rule might be generally with respect to Third – so called third-party searches, where the third-party isn’t suspected of crime, that a search warrant should not issue, but a subpoena duces tecum should be used when the third party is a newspaper, that is when the premises to be searched is occupied by a newspaper.

We also disagree with this narrower holding and in our view, the whatever First Amendment considerations, there might be in a situation like this can be satisfactorily accommodated by a careful application of the usual criteria governing the issue of search warrants.

As I say, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Mr. Justice Powell has filed a concurring opinion, Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a dissenting opinion and Mr. Justice Marshall has joined him.

Mr. Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion, Mr. Justice Brennan took no part in the case.