Because its task is to inquire into the existence of possible criminal conduct and to return only well-founded indictments, a grand jury's investigative powers are necessarily broad. It is a grand inquest, a body with powers of investigation and inquisition, the scope of whose inquiries is not to be limited narrowly by questions of propriety or forecasts of the probable result of the investigation, or by doubts whether any particular individual will be found properly subject to an accusation of crime. Hence, the grand jury's authority to subpoena witnesses is not only historic, but essential to its task.
This was a consolidation of three cases involving newspaper reporters who have refused to answer questions that were relevant to criminal investigation after being subpoenaed by the court. The questions asked of the reporters required them to reveal confidential information, thus, answering the pertinent questions would undermine their credibility as reporters. Furthermore, they argued that the Kentucky Reporter’s Privilege Statute and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution authorized them to refuse answering questions that will require them to disclose their sources and other confidential information. Although the reporters in the respective cases did not claim an absolute privilege against official interrogation in all circumstances, they asserted that the reporter should not be forced either to appear or to testify before a grand jury or at trial until and unless sufficient grounds were shown for believing that the reporter possessed information relevant to a crime the grand jury was investigating, that the information the reporter has was unavailable from other sources, and that the need for the information was sufficiently compelling to override the claimed invasion of First Amendment interests occasioned by the disclosure. In the respective cases, the district court ruled against the newspaper reporters.
By the virtue of the rights granted by the First Amendment, were the newspaper reporters exempt from disclosing confidential information that may be relevant to a criminal investigation?
The Court held that the First Amendment does not relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation that all citizens have to respond to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, and therefore the Amendment does not afford him a constitutional testimonial privilege for an agreement he makes to conceal facts relevant to a grand jury's investigation of a crime or to conceal the criminal conduct of his source or evidence thereof.