Gooding v. Wilson Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The Appellee, Wilson (Appellee), was convicted of using opprobrious words and abusive language towards police officers.

Facts of the case

“A Georgia state court convicted Johnny Wilson of violating a state statute. The statute provided that “”[a]ny person who shall, without provocation, use to or of another, and in his presence . . . opprobrious words or abusive language, tending to cause a breach of the peace . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”” On appeal, Mr. Wilson argued that the statute violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the argument. Mr. Wilson successfully sought habeas corpus relief from a Georgia federal district court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.”

Question

Is the Georgia law overly broad and unconstitutional?

Answer

Yes. The definitions of the words used in the statute include non-fighting words as well as fighting words. Therefore, this statute is overly broad and unconstitutional as written and applied.

Conclusion

“The Court held that the Georgia statute was, on its face, unconstitutionally vague and overbroad in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments , since the state courts had not, by construction, limited the statutory proscription to “”fighting”” words, which by their very utterance tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. Furthermore, the Court found that the statute had not been construed to be limited in application to words that had a direct tendency to cause acts of violence the person to whom, individually, the remark was addressed.”

  • Case Brief: 1972
  • Appellant: Gooding
  • Appellee: Wilson
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 405 US 518 (1972)
Argued: Dec 8, 1971
Decided: Mar 23, 1972