New York v. P. J. Video, Inc.

RESPONDENT: P. J. Video, Inc. et al.
LOCATION: Network Video

DOCKET NO.: 85-363
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 475 US 868 (1986)
ARGUED: Mar 04, 1986
DECIDED: Apr 22, 1986

John J. DeFranks - on behalf of the petitioner
Paul John Cambara, Jr. - on behalf of the respondent
Paul John Cambria, Jr. - on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case

Investigator David Groblewski from the Erie County District Attorney's Office viewed videos rented from P.J. Video and determined their content violated New York obscenity statutes. He drafted an affidavit describing the content on the videos and filed a warrant authorizing their seizure. A village justice in Depew NY issued the warrant and the police seized ten movies suspected to contain obscene content. A local court determined five of the movies violated obscenity standards. P.J. Video argued that the justice issued the warrant without probable cause since he did not personally view the movies. The court agreed and suppressed the videos as evidence. The County Court of Erie County affirmed the decision, and the New York Court of Appeals also affirmed. It asserted that warrants authorizing the seizure of items that were both non-dangerous and mediums of speech needed to satisfy a higher level of proof of "probable-cause" than other types of warrants because of First Amendment concerns.


If a warrant is issued for the seizure of items that can be considered as mediums of speech, does the First Amendment require this warrant to satisfy a "higher" level of proof for probable-cause than warrants issued for other forms of evidence?

Media for New York v. P. J. Video, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 04, 1986 in New York v. P. J. Video, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. DeFranks, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

John J. DeFranks:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The present case on a writ of certiorari to the New York Court of Appeals involves the warrant seizure of 13 videocassette recordings including eight titles alleged to be obscene under New York's obscenity law.

The issue as we see it, before this Court, is twofold: firstly, whether the New York Court of Appeals has elevated the standard of proof necessary to support the evidentiary seizure of presumptively protected material, and secondly, whether the Constitution of the United States requires such an elevation in light of the circumstances of the present case and the available First Amendment safeguards.

Now, although it is here disputed, I think the record provides firm support for our contention that the standard has in fact been elevated.

In the words of the majority, there must be enough proof before the Magistrate to allow him to judge the obscenity of the films and to determine that they are not entitled to constitutional protection.

Warren E. Burger:

And you think that's the function of the jury in the trial of the case?

John J. DeFranks:

Yes, sir.

It was mere than imprecise language on the part of the Court of Appeals, and this is clear upon reading the dissent.

In the third paragraph of the dissenting opinions he points out to the majority that they have required an unambiguous demonstration of obscenity in order to support the present seizure.

He advised them that the standard has been universally rejected by the courts of the United States.

The majority responds in footnote 3, not to deny the elevated standard but in essence to confirm it, chiding the dissent for not having provided any case authority for his claim of universal rejection.

The dissenter took four more opportunities to point out to the majority that they have elevated the standard of proof.

All four references were ignored.

They certainly were not denied.

John Paul Stevens:

Mr. DeFrank, do we have, to read the dissent to understand the majority opinion, do you think?

John J. DeFranks:

No, I don't believe you have to, but the dissent makes it very clear.

The majority speaks for itself on the unequivocal standard where they say, we look at this information and we can see it being inculpatory, or another interpretation where it may be less inculpatory.

So, the majority makes clear what they are doing.

In its legal analysis the Court of Appeals committed a fatal flaw which probably resulted in the elevated standard.

They relied upon the scrupulous exactitude requirement of Stanford to raise the standard of proof, yet in this case the Magistrate made the probable... cause determination.

He designated only certain films for seizure, and only those films were taken.

Further, the term "scrupulous exactitude" seems to be contradictory to the term "probable cause".

How can we ever be exact about what supposedly is Appeals probable, and that was the question the Court of was determining.

More importantly, the Court of Appeals aired in applying a prior restraint analysis to this case.

No prior restraint was demonstrated.

No substantial restraint was demonstrated.

And in fact, the record indicates that there ware available safeguards to prevent any type of substantial restraint.

William H. Rehnquist:

When you're talking about substantial restraint, Mr. DeFranks, you're talking about seizing of all the copies of a magazine or something like that?

John J. DeFranks:

Or even one, if it's the only offering of a movie theater, I would suggest, that might--