State Shield Laws

(Note: For current information on this topic, see our legal guide section on Protecting Sources and Source Material.) 

As of December 2007, 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While the majority of states protect a confidential source’s identity, some states also protect a unpublished notes, outtakes, or work product.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, they can be found in the following section.

Specific State Shield Laws

Alabama Code Section 12-21-142

Alaska Statutes 09.25.300 et seq

Arizona Revised Statutes Sec. 12-2237

California Evidence Code Sec. 1070

Colorado Statutes Sec 13-90-113

Delaware Code Sec 4320 et sec

District of Columbia Code Sec. 16-4701 et sec.

Florida Evidence Code Section 90.5015

Georgia Code Section 24-9-30

Illinois Code of Civil Procedure

Indiana Code Section 34-46-4

Kentucky Statute Sec 421.100

Louisiana Revised Statutes Sec 45: 1451-1459

Maryland Code, Courts and Judicial Proceedings Sec 9-112

Michigan Code of Criminal Procedure Section 767.5

Minnesota Statutes 595.021-.025

Montana Code Sec 26-1-901 et all

Nebraska Statutes Sec 20-144 to 147

New Jersey Permanent Statutes Section 2A:84A-21

New York Civil Rights Law Article 7, Section 79-h

North Carolina General Statutes Section 8-53.11

North Dakota Century Code Sec 31-01-06.2

Ohio Revised Code 2739.04

Oklahoma Statutes Title 12 Sec 2506

Oregon Code Sec 44.520-44.530

Pennsylvania Statutes Title 42 Sec 5942

Rhode Island Code Sec 9-19.1 et seq

South Carolina Code Sec 19-11-100

Tennessee Code Sec 24-1-208

Washington House Bill Number 1366