Smith v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

DOCKET NO.: 75-1439
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 431 US 291 (1977)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1976
DECIDED: May 23, 1977

Howard E. Shapiro - for respondent
Tefft W. Smith - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Smith v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1976 in Smith v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 23, 1977 in Smith v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 75-1439, Smith against the United States will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us by writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The petitioner, Mr. Smith, who does business as intrigue was indicted in the Southern of Iowa for mailing obscene materials in violation of a federal statute.

The mailings were entirely intrastate.

Furthermore, at the time of the mailings, the Iowa obscenity statute then in effect proscribed the dissemination of obscene materials only to minors.

The case went to trial and at the close of the Government's evidence and later, the petitioner unsuccessfully moved for a directed verdict of acquittal on the ground that the restricted Iowa obscenity statute set forth the applicable community standard, and that the prosecution have not proved that the material at issue had offended that standard.

The petitioner never looked the last was convicted, and on appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In an opinion filed today, we in turn affirmed.

We hold that state law cannot define the contemporary community standard or the appealed of the prurient interest and patent offensiveness that under the case of Miller against California are applied in determining whether or not material is obscene.

Thus, the Iowa statute is not conclusive as to those standards.

This after all was a federal prosecution, and the issues are fact questions for the jury to be judged in the light of its understanding of the contemporary community standard.

The state legislature cannot declare what the community standard should be anymore that they could undertake to define the concept of reasonableness in a tort case.

It is allright of course for the jury to be told what the Iowa statute provides.

Further, the community standard aspects of the statute implicate federal and not state law, and it is therefore immaterial that the mailings were only intrastate.

This holding does not nullify state law.

On the other hand, the State's right not to regulate in the obscenity field cannot correlatively compel the United States to allow the mails to be used to send obscene materials in or into that state.

We further hold that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to ask certain questions tendered by the petitioner voir dire about the jurors' understanding of the community standard.

Mr. Justice Powell while joining the opinion has filed a separate concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion and has joined up by Mr. Justice Stewart and Mr. Justice Marshall.

Mr. Justice Stevens also has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.