RESPONDENT: Members of New York State Crime Victims Board
LOCATION: Burning Cross at residence
DOCKET NO.: 90-1059
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 502 US 105 (1991)
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1991
DECIDED: Dec 10, 1991
Howard L. Zwickel - on behalf of the Respondent
Ronald S. Rauchberg - on behalf of the Petitioner
Facts of the case
To keep criminals from profiting from crimes by selling their stories, New York State's 1977 "Son of Sam" law ordered that proceeds from such deals be turned over to the New York State Crime Victims Board. The Board was to deposit the money into escrow accounts which victims could later claim through civil suits. In 1987 the Board ordered Henry Hill, a former gangster who sold his story to Simon & Schuster, to turn over his payments from a book deal.
Did the Son of Sam law violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment?
Media for Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims BoardAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1991 in Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Board
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 10, 1991 in Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Board
Sandra Day O'Connor:
The second case for announcement is No. 90-1059, Simon & Schuster versus members of the New York State Crime Victims Board.
The case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
New York has a so-called Son of Sam law.
It requires that an accused or a convicted criminal's income from works describing his crime be deposited in an escrow account.
These funds are then made available to victims of the crime and to the criminal's other creditors.
The petitioner, Simon & Schuster, published a book entitled Wiseguy in which Henry Hill, an admitted organized crime figure, described his life of crime.
The respondent, the New York State Crime Victims Board, compelled Simon & Schuster to place Hill's income from the book in an escrow account.
Simon & Schuster then brought this suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Son of Sam law is inconsistent with the First Amendment.
Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals found the statute constitutional.
In an opinion filed today, we reverse.
The First Amendment prevents a state to regulate speech, based on the content of that speech, only where the regulation is narrowly tailored to advance a compelling state interest.
The Son of Sam law imposes a financial burden on speech only if a particular content.
The state has a compelling interest in compensating crime victims from the proceeds of the crime but little at any interest in limiting that compensation to the proceeds of the criminal speech about the crime.
Because the Son of Sam law reaches a substantial amount of speech that does not enable a criminal to profit from crime while victims remain uncompensated, it is not narrowly tailored to advance the state's interest.
As a result, we hold that the statute is unconstitutional by virtue of the provisions of the First Amendment.
Justice Blackmun and Justice Kennedy have each filed opinions concurring in the judgment.
Justice Thomas took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.