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Legal Hotline - Shield Law


CAUTION: Because the law is constantly evolving, it is important before relying upon any opinion on this website that you check with the hotline counsel 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 NJPA's Legal Counsel.

 

Sept. 30, 2004

Question:
Can the prosecutor subpoena a reporter to testify about an interview with a criminal defendant?
Answer:
No. The New Jersey Newspersonís 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

Question: 
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.

Answer: 
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

Question:
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? 
Answer:
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

Question:
Does the Reporter's Shield protect the reporter from being compelled to testify at a deposition? 
Answer:
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. 

 

The Hotline is operated by NJPA's General Counsel, Tom Cafferty of Gibbons P.C.  Cafferty has served in this capacity for more than 30 years and has extensive First Amendment and communication law expertise. The Hotline is available to all publications that are active members of the New Jersey Press Association.

To reach the Hotline:

Call (973) 596-4863 The regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but callers may leave a recorded message 24 hours per day on a dedicated voice-mail line. The Hotline attorneys will return all calls as soon as possible.
Fax: (973) 639-6267  
Write: NJPA Legal Hotline, c/o Gibbons P.C., One Gateway Center, Newark, NJ 07102-5310

E-mail: tcafferty@gibbonslaw.com

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New Jersey Press Association (NJPA) is a non-profit membership association formed to advance the interests of newspapers and to increase awareness in the benefits of newspaper readership. The mission of NJPA is to help newspapers remain editorially strong, financially sound and free of outside influence. We will pursue these goals in every way possible, as a service both to our members and to the people of New Jersey.

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