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State Shield Laws

Currently thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have statutory shield laws. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee (citations to the various state statutes are listed below). A number of state courts have also recognized a privilege based on their state constitutions, common law, or the First Amendment.

The various state statutes range in scope, from broad protections that provide an absolute privilege, to more narrow qualified privileges. Most state shield laws provide a qualified privilege, protecting source information in judicial proceedings, unless the compelling party can establish that the information is (i) relevant to matter at hand; (ii) unavailable by other means; and (iii) that a compelling need exists for the information.

While the majority of states protect a confidential source’s identity, some states also protect a unpublished notes, outtakes, or work product. A small minority of states further protect a reporter’s personal observations. States also differ in who is covered by the privilege, and under what situations it applies. For example, many states limit coverage only to persons are professionally engaged in dissemination of information to the public, while other states include freelancers, authors, electronic publishers, or educators. Some states further require that, in order to qualify as a member of the news media, evidence or records must be kept documenting actual publication or broadcast, especially when radio or television media are concerned. For a detailed examination of state shield laws, see Journalists’ Privilege to Withhold Information in Judicial and Other Proceedings: State Shield Statutes (Congressional Research Service, March 2005).

The first state shield law was enacted in Maryland on April 2, 1896, in response to the imprisonment of a Baltimore Sun reporter for refusing to reveal a confidential source to a grand jury. Act of Apr. 2, 1896, ch. 249, 1896 Md. Laws 437 (codified at MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 9-112 (LexisNexis 2002)).

If you are interested in the specific statutory provisions for each state, here are the cites: ALA. CODE § 12-21-142 (LexisNexis 2005); ALASKA STAT. § 09.25.310 (2004); ARIZ. REV. STAT. ANN. § 12-2237 (2003); CAL. EVID. CODE § 1070(a) (West 1995); COLO. REV. STAT. § 13-90-119 (2005); Act of June 6, 2006, No. 06-140, 2006 Conn. Pub. Acts 140 (effective Oct. 1, 2006); DEL. CODE ANN. tit. 10, §§ 4320–26 (1999); D.C. CODE §§ 16-4701 to -4704 (2001); FLA. STAT. § 90.5015 (2005); GA. CODE ANN. § 24-9-30 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/8-901 to -909 (West 2003); IND. CODE ANN. §§ 34-46-4-1 to -2 (LexisNexis 1998); KY. REV. STAT. ANN. § 421.100 (LexisNexis 2005); LA. REV. STAT. ANN. §§ 45:1451 to :1459 (1999); MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 9-112 (LexisNexis 2002); MICH. COMP. LAWS § 767.5a (2006); MINN. STAT. § 595.021–.024 (2004); MONT. CODE ANN. §§ 26-1-902 to -903 (2005); NEB. REV. STAT. §§ 20-144 to -147 (1997); NEV. REV. STAT. § 49.275 (2005); N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2A:84A-21 (West 1994); N.M. STAT. ANN. § 38-6-7 (West 2003), invalidated by Ammerman v. Hubbard Broad., Inc., 551 P.2d 1354, 1359 (N.M. 1976); N.Y. CIV. RIGHTS LAW § 79-h (McKinney 1992); N.C. GEN. STAT. § 8-53.11 (2005); N.D CENT. CODE § 31-01-06.2 (1996); OHIO REV. CODE ANN. §§ 2739.11–.12 (LexisNexis 2000); OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 12, § 2506 (West 1993); OR. REV. STAT. §§ 44.520–.530 (2005); 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 5942 (West 2000); R.I. GEN. LAWS §§ 9-19.1-1 to -3 (1997); S.C. CODE ANN. § 19-11-100 (1976); TENN. CODE ANN. § 24-1-208 (2000).