Legal Hotline - Shield Law
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to ascertain whether or not there has been any subsequent change or
supplementation to the law since the date of the opinion.
Answers provided by
Sept. 30, 2004
Can the prosecutor subpoena a reporter to testify about an interview
with a criminal defendant?
No. The New Jersey Newsperson’s Privilege offers very strong
protection to reporters. Generally, only a criminal defendant can
compel the reporter to testify and then only if the information can
not be obtained from any other source and is material to the issue
of guilt or innocence. The prosecutor could only compel a newsperson
to testify if the newsperson were an eyewitness to a crime involving
physical violence or property damage. Even the eyewitness
exception is limited and will not be used to compel testimony if
there are other witnesses available.
March 14, 2001
I had an inquiry today regarding whether or not a paper would be able to assert the Shield Law in the event of any inquiry into sources or the like. I was advised that the paper meets all the criteria of the Shield Law except one: they do not have a paid circulation.
After reviewing NJER 508 and the cases following the discussion thereunder, I advised her that the answer is quite probably, yes. See
In Re Avila, 206 N.J. Super. 61, 63 (A.D.1985). Therein, the newspaper in question did not have a paid circulation; however, the Appellate Division in reviewing previous decisions of the Supreme Court, among others, indicated that the Shield Law should be given a broad interpretation so as to allow its assertion by the media. In that case, the Appellate Division stated that the requirements that the newspaper have a paid circulation and a second class permit was just in order to establish that the paper was generally read by the paper to whom it was distributed. By virtue of the evidence in that case, the Appellate Division felt that the newspaper had shown that a substantial number of people were reading it and that, therefore, the paper in question, The Advance, was "similar" to the definition of a newspaper under the statute/rule of evidence. And therefore the Appellate Division held that the paper could, indeed, assert the Shield Law. See, too, the general language in
Petition of Burnett, 269 N. J. Super. 493, 500-501 (L.1993). That language mirrors the language in the Avila case to the effect that the New Jersey courts have continually interpreted the Shield Law language in a broad fashion so as to see that the newspapers looking to assert it, although not complying in every aspect to the definition of a "newspaper," may do so.
April 5, 2000
Is there any provision in Megan's Law which would permit the prosecutors office to overcome the newsperson's privilege (Shield Law) and compel a reporter to testify as to his/her source of information or to compel production of a reporter's notes?
No. The newsperson's privilege protects a reporter from being compelled to testify or provide information to the State. Only a criminal defendant, in very limited circumstances, can compel testimony.
March 26, 1998
Does the Reporter's Shield protect the reporter from being compelled to testify at a deposition?
Yes. The Shield law, N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-21 et seq., Evidence Rule 508, protects the reporter from compelled testimony, it protects the reporter's sources, and it protects the reporter's information including notes. In a civil case, the privilege is absolute but in criminal cases there are a few very narrow instances where testimony can be compelled.
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