A Conclusion on State Shield Law

One recent case reflecting state shield law’s protection for journalist is Holmes v. Winter. Jana Winter, a journalist of FoxNews.com, obtained a story about the suspect of 2012 Aurora shooting, James Holmes, from two law officers. The sources told her “the suspect mailed a notebook depicting violence to a psychiatrist” before the massacre that killed 12 people (FoxNews.com, 2013). As the shooting case was at trial in Colorado and Winter is a New York-based reporter, lawyers of Holmes applied to the District Court for the County of Arapahoe in Colorado, requesting the court to ask New York Supreme Court to issue a subpoena that required Winter to reveal her sources of the story. Winter lost at the Appellate Division of the court but Court of Appeals of New York dismissed Holmes’s petition to compel Winter to testify. The Court of Appeals ruled that Winter is entitled to absolute protection of shield law of New York that prevents a New York court to compel a reporter to reveal the identity of sources, although Winter is requested to testify in the court of another state (Holmes v. Winter (22 N.Y.3d 300 at 303)).

A review of Jana Winter’s case

Shield laws on the state level provide protection for reporters to some extent. It can be effective in frustrating parties that want to have reporters justify in the court before they actually seek subpoenas and serve as sources of defending reporter’s privilege before journalists decide to comply with court’s request or refuse to disclose their sources in the risk of conducting contempt of the courts. However, the influence of a state shield law is limited geographically and the fact that state shield laws are bifurcate in their general orientation of offering a absolute or qualified privilege and numerous differences in aspects like who is protected and how the privilege is supported and restricted indicate a lack of consensus of protection of reporter’ sources, justifying the demand for a shield law on a higher level-a federal shield law.


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