Alberts v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: California State Capitol

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 354 US 476 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1957

Facts of the case

Alberts conducted a mail-order business which sold sexually explicit materials. He was convicted in a Municipal Court in California on a misdemeanor complaint which found him guilty of selling lewd and obscene books and of composing and publishing an obscene advertisement for his products.


Did the California Penal Code's obscenity provisions, criminalizing the selling and distribution of obscene literature, violate the freedoms of speech and press as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Alberts v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1957 in Alberts v. California

Earl Warren:

Number 61, David S. Alberts, Appellant, versus the State of California.

Mr. Fleishman.

Stanley Fleishman:

Ready for the appellant, Your Honor.

Earl Warren:

You may proceed.

Stanley Fleishman:

If the Court please.

This is a criminal appeal from the State of California.

The appellant was convicted under California Penal Code, Section 311, which among other things makes it a crime to keep the sale and to advertise obscene books.

The case started with array.

At an appointed hour, police officers descended upon the home, the business office and the warehouse of appellant and they seized hundreds or thousands of books and pictures, parting them away in two trucks and in a car.

Appellant was charged in the exact language of the complaint.

The evidence was simple.

The State proved that the appellant had in fact mailed circulars advertising pictures and books.

And then it proved that the appellant in fact kept pictures and books to fill by mail the orders received by mail.

From the welter of material seized, the State selected some 31 books, 10 magazines and an assortment of pictures and introduced them together with some mailing paraphernalia such as circulars and the like.

This was the entire case of the State.

The trial court found the appellant guilty and sentenced him to a 60-day jail term, a $500 fine and gave him two years probation.

In affirming, the Appellate Department stated that it found that appellant had in fact kept books for sale and had advertised the books.

The Appellate Department did not consider the pictures that were in the case.

The appellate court here marked these books (Inaudible)

Stanley Fleishman:

No, it did not, Your Honor.


Stanley Fleishman:

It did not.

It merely said that -- that some of the books were obscene in its opinion.

That's all it said.

Felix Frankfurter:

Was this before a jury?

Stanley Fleishman:

No, it was not, Your Honor, trial by court.

Is it possible to tell from this record what pictures these were from (Inaudible)

Stanley Fleishman:

I would say that it would include the six books, if anything, that the State insists were included in it.

There are three novels and three medical text or works by doctors.

There are some confusion as to three but I would say that at least the three novels were found by the trial court to be obscene and the State now says they're obscene, although the Appellate Department did not rule on that, Your Honor.