Jenkins v. Georgia

LOCATION: Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 73-557
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Georgia

CITATION: 418 US 153 (1974)
ARGUED: Apr 15, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1974

Louis Nizer - Argued the cause for the appellant
Tony H. Hight - Argued the cause for the appellee

Facts of the case

An Albany, Georgia theater manager was convicted under a Georgia obscenity law when he showed the critically acclaimed film "Carnal Knowledge." The film explored social conceptions of sexuality and starred Jack Nicholson and Ann Margaret.


Did the manager's conviction violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Jenkins v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 15, 1974 in Jenkins v. Georgia

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 24, 1974 in Jenkins v. Georgia

William H. Rehnquist:

In Jenkins against Georgia, the Supreme Court of Georgia upheld the conviction of Billy Jenkins for showing the film Carnal Knowledge.

The jury in Georgia found he was guilty of a statute of Georgia which defines obscenity in language similar to that used in our opinion in Memoirs against Massachusetts.

We agree with the Georgia Supreme Court’s implicit rule, and that the constitution does not require juries in state obscenity cases to be instructed to apply hypothetical state wide standards in determining obscenity.

But we cannot accept the Georgia Supreme Court’s apparent conclusion that the jury's verdict against appellant, precluded all the further appellate review of his claim that his exemption of the film was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

It would be a serious misreading of Miller to conclude that juries have unbridled discretions in determining what is patently offensive under the Miller test.

Our own view of the film impels the conclusion that there is nothing in Carnal Knowledge which falls within the two examples given in Miller of what may be found patently offensive.

Nor is there anything sufficiently similar to justify similar treatment.

While there are scenes in which sexual conduct including ultimate sexual acts, such as described in Miller are to understood is taking place, the camera does not focus on the bodies of the actors at such times.

There is no exhibition whatever of the actor’s genitals during these scenes.

There are occasional scenes of nudity, but nudity alone is not enough to make the material legally obscene under Miller.

We conclude this as simply not the public portrayal of hardcore sexual conduct for its own sake and for ensuing commercial gain which was said to be punishable in Miller.

Since Carnal Knowledge could not as a matter of constitutional law be found to depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and since no other basis appears on the record upon which appellant's conviction can be sustained, we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a statement concurring in the result Mr. Justice Brennan has filed an opinion concurring in the result in which Mr. Justice Stewart and Mr. Justice Marshal joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Rehnquist.