Perez v. Ledesma

PETITIONER: Leander H. Perez, Jr.; Louis Reichart; George Bethea; Earl Wendling
RESPONDENT: August M. Ledesma, Jr.; Harold J. Speiss; Lawrence P. Pittman
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 401 US 82 (1971)
ARGUED: Nov 17, 1970
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1971

Charles H. Livaudais - for the appellants
Jack Peebles - for the appellees

Facts of the case

August Ledesma and several others were arrested and charged with violating both a Louisiana statute and a parish ordinance prohibiting display of obscene material for sale. The arresting officers seized the material in question. While the state court proceedings were underway, Perez, and the others arrested, sued in federal district court for a declaration that the statute and the ordinance were unconstitutional. A three-judge court convened and upheld the Louisiana statute, but found the arrests and seizure of materials invalid. The court prohibited use of the seized materials in the state criminal proceedings. The court noted that it had no jurisdiction to consider the ordinance, but expressed that it was probably invalid. A single federal judge later ruled the ordinance invalid. Local law enforcement officers directly appealed the district court decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Did the district court err when it convened a three-judge court and ruled on the validity of the arrests and seizure of materials while the state criminal proceedings were still pending?

Media for Perez v. Ledesma

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1970 in Perez v. Ledesma

Warren E. Burger:

Perez against Ledesma, number 60.

Charles H. Livaudais:

Honorable Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Livaudais.

Charles H. Livaudais:

Is that it?

This is a case also involving obscenity, is involving the criminal prosecution of appellee Ledesma in this case both for the sale of obscene publications and the possession of obscene publications with the intent to sell.

The primary issue in this appeal raised on appeal is a procedural question in enforcing a state statute and the question as post to the Court is whether or not in a state criminal prosecution under a valid and constitutional state statute which has been filed constitutional by the three-judge court relative to sale and possession with intent to sale obscene materials and publications.

It is necessary that there be a judicial adversary hearing prior to the arrest and prosecution of the defendant to determine in advance of his arrest or prosecution whether or not the materials and publications involved are obscene under the terms of the state statute.

We will have other related issues which I will cover in connection with this in reference to the jurisdiction of this Court on appeal in light 28 U.S.C. 1253 in the Gunn case which has been discussed.

We also have problems connected involving injunctions and declaratory judgments under 2283 which has also been discussed and intervention by federal courts and state proceedings and abuse of discretion by the District Court in this case.

This case originated on January 27th of 1969 when two deputies of the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office and the State of Louisiana purchased four obscene publications from Ledesma at his store in St. Bernard Parish in Arabi, Louisiana.

These publications and the other publication I required to are here with the record which I brought in filing with this Court.

Ledesma was arrested and at the time of his arrest, these deputies selected certain publications, the three-judge court found it to be the number 45 from his shelves as evidence.

Four bills of information were filed against him by me in the state court, two of them under the state statute relative to sale and possession with intent to sell obscene publications, and two almost identical bills of information under the parish ordinance.

These two charges under the parish ordinance which were almost identical to the state ordinance were subsequently now crossed or dropped by me.

Now in this prosecution in the state court, Ledesma was afforded an adversary judicial hearing focusing on the obscenity of these publications in the form of a motion to suppress the evidence and a motion to quash the indictment which he filed under state prosecutions.

The basis, one allegation was that our statute was vague and overbroad and the other was that the materials were not obscene.

This was decided within two weeks after his arrest, he had his hearing in state court and we tried this issue and the state judge denied the motions of Ledesma.

Wanting another bite at the apple, he then went to Federal Court to ask the Federal Court for relief under the civil rights statute asking to declare both our state statute and our parish ordinance unconstitutional for vagueness and overbroad.

Also asking for injunctions against pending and state -- and future state prosecutions and also asking that we be enjoined from retaining the publication in our possession and using them at prosecutions.

Also, he asked for damages in the sum of $30,000.00 each for his clients.

After a long and prolonged hearing in the court, not in court but the proceeding in the District Court after the three-judge court was convened on July 14th of 1969, some five to six months after the arrest, the three-judge court in a two-to-one decision with Judge Rubin dissenting held first all that our state statute, the two provisions, Subsections 2 and 3 involved herein were held to be constitutional.

Judge Rubin concurred in that.

The court in its order had stated and I say they alleged that they denied to grant the injunctive relief, grant, as a matter of fact they say we specifically deny injunctive relief.

Well, did they deny or did they grant injunctive relief in this case?

Charles H. Livaudais:

Your Honor, I'll get to that but my opinion and I think this Court will see that we were enjoined both pending and future prosecutions were enjoined in this case.

That the court ordered its judgment in this way so as to get around the provisions or Article 2283 and this Court and other cases which I will give to the Court shortly look through this particular type of action by a court where it tried to evade 2283, and actually had an order which had practical effect, the operating effect of an injunction in the prosecution.

But if there was an injunction here, you can't appeal here can you?

Charles H. Livaudais:

That's correct, Your Honor.

That unless jurisdiction in this matter was deferred to hearing on the merits today.

Warren E. Burger:

You have to construe what the judge said and perhaps what they wrote as meaning that you must stop doing this and if you don't something will happen to you, isn't that right?