A West Virginia newspaper, the Charleston Daily Mail, published the name of a 14-year-old who was apprehended and taken into custody for allegedly shooting a classmate at school. Reporters were able to determine the name of the student shooter simply by interviewing witnesses, the police, and an attorney at the school. Before the newspaper reported on the incident, another paper and three radio stations had already published the student’s name. Nonetheless, a grand jury indicted the Charleston Daily Mail, its editors and reporters (“collectively referred to here as “Daily Mail”) under a West Virginia law that made it a crime to report the name of a child in a juvenile proceeding without prior court approval. Daily Mail petitioned the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to prevent the county officials from acting on the indictment. The appellate court sided with the paper finding the statute violated the First Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed to hear this case, and on March 20, 1979, oral arguments were presented which you can listen to at http://legacy.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1978/1978_78_482. On June 26, 1979, the Court affirmed the appellate court’s decision.
Chief Justice Burger explained, “At issue is simply the power of a state to punish the truthful publication of an alleged juvenile delinquent’s name lawfully obtained by a newspaper. The asserted state interest cannot justify the statute’s imposition of criminal sanctions on this type of publication.”