Shield Laws Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Shield Laws, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Shield Laws?

(n) Shield laws are the statutes which provides shield or protection to certain information peculiar to its nature from testifying them in the court. Example: Confidential information given to the advocate, doctor etc.

History and Meaning of Shield Laws

Shield laws are laws which provide protection to individuals who refuse to disclose certain kinds of information in a legal proceeding. These laws can differ by jurisdiction and by the types of information they protect. However, they broadly aim to encourage a free flow of information by allowing certain parties to speak in confidence. Shield laws most commonly protect information sources for journalists, but they can also apply to lawyers, doctors, and other professionals.

Shield laws date back to 1837 in the United States, and they initially provided journalists with protection for publishing controversial opinions. Many US states later expanded these laws to broaden the definition of a journalist and to include protection for information sources. The federal government also passed a shield law through the Free Flow of Information Act in 2013, though the Act was not ultimately passed into law.

Examples of Shield Laws

  1. In the United States, New York, California, and Florida all have shield laws that protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources.
  2. In the case of Branzburg v. Hayes, the Supreme Court held that journalists do not have an absolute privilege under the First Amendment shielding them from testifying before a grand jury. However, the Court also suggested that states could develop their own shield laws.
  3. Many states have shield laws that protect individuals from being compelled to testify about confidential communications made between themselves and their attorneys.

Legal Terms Similar to Shield Laws

  1. Attorney-Client Privilege: This term explains a doctrine that protects the confidential communications between a client and their attorney from disclosure in court.
  2. Doctor-Patient Privilege: This is a legal concept that prevents medical professionals from being forced to reveal information about their patients.
  3. Reporter's Privilege: This is a legal right that allows journalists to keep their sources confidential in certain circumstances.