Zurcher v. Stanford Daily Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Police officers searched respondent newspaper the Stanford Daily’s offices looking for photographs of criminals for purposes of identification.

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.”

    Question

    Is a state prevented by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments from issuing a warrant to search for evidence because the owner or possessor of the premises to be searched is not reasonably suspected of criminal conduct?
    Do the same standards for issuing a warrant apply when First Amendment freedom of the press concerns are implicated?

    Answer

    Reverse the decision and admit the fruits of the search.
    No, the crucial element in a reasonable search is not that the property owner is suspected of crime but that there is reasonable cause to believe that the items to be searched for are located on the property to which entry is sought. So, in this case allow the search.

    Conclusion

    In reversing the lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court held that it was untenable to conclude that property could not be searched unless its occupant was reasonably suspected of a crime and subject to arrest. The court declined to reinterpret the Fourth Amendment to impose a general constitutional barrier against warrants to search newspaper premises, to require resort to subpoenas as a general rule, or to demand prior notice and hearing in connection with the issuance of search warrants. It rejected the reasons given by the lower court for holding that the search for photographs was unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and in violation of the First Amendment.

    • Case Brief: 1978
    • Petitioner: Zurcher
    • Respondent: Stanford Daily
    • Decided by: Burger Court

    Citation: 436 US 547 (1978)
    Argued: Jan 17, 1978
    Decided: May 31, 1978