Zurcher vs. Stanford Daily 436 U.S. 54 (1978)

Fact: Respondents, a student newspaper that had published articles and photographs of a clash between demonstrators and police at a hospital, and staff members, brought a civil action against the petitioners claiming that a search pursuant to a warrant issued on a judge’s finding of probable cause that the newspaper (which was not involved in the unlawful acts) possessed photographs and negatives revealing the identities of demonstrators who had assaulted police officers at the hospital had deprived respondents of their constitutional rights. The District Court granted declaratory relief, holding that the Fourth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth forbade the issuance of a warrant to search for materials in possession of one not suspected of crime unless there is probable cause, based on facts presented in a sworn affidavit, to believe that a subpoena duces tecum would be impracticable. Failure to honor the subpoena would not, alone, justify issuance of a warrant; it would also have to appear that the possessor of the objects sought would disregard a court order not to remove or destroy them. The court also held that, where the innocent object of the search is a newspaper, First Amendment interests make the search constitutionally permissible only in the rare circumstance where there is a clear showing that (1) important materials will be destroyed or removed from the jurisdiction; and (2) a restraining order would be futile.

Issue: Whether the Respondent, a third party not involved in unlawful act cannot be a subject of search warrant and seizure.

Held: No, A State is not prevented by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments from issuing a warrant to search for evidence simply because the owner or possessor of the place to be searched is not reasonably suspected of criminal involvement. The critical 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 “things” to be searched for and seized are located on the property to which entry is sought.


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