Jenkins v. Georgia (1974)
418 U.S. 153 (1974)
The Facts of the case are these: “Appellant [Mr. Jenkins], was convicted in Georgia of the crime of distributing obscene material. His conviction, in March, 1972, was for showing the film “Carnal Knowledge” in a movie theater in Albany, Georgia. The jury that found appellant guilty was instructed on obscenity pursuant to the Georgia statute, which defines obscene material in language similar to that of the definition of obscenity set forth in this Court’s plurality opinion in Memoirs v. Massachusetts. According to that opinion: ‘Material is obscene if, considered as a whole, applying community standards, its predominant appeal is to prurient interest, that is, a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex or erection, and utterly without redeeming social value, and if, in addition, it goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in describing or representing such matters.’
The Main Issue in this case is this: 1. Is Jenkins’ showing of this film in a movie theater protected by the First Amendment?
The Holding in this case indicates that Jenkins’ showing of this film is protected by the First Amendment as it has been incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Majority Opinion was written by Mr. Justice Rehnquist, Jenkins’ conviction occurred before the announcement of the Miller v. California decision. In this case the Court held that “convictions prior to the announcement of Miller decisions but whose convictions were on direct appeal at the time should receive any benefit available to them from those decisions… …Our own viewing of the film satisfies us that “Carnal Knowledge” could not be found under the Miller standards to depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way. Appellant’s showing of the film “Carnal Knowledge” is simply not the “public portrayal of hard core sexual conduct for its own sake, and for the ensuing commercial gain which we said was punishable in Miller. We hold that the film could not, as a matter of constitutional law, be found to depict sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and that it is therefore not outside the protection of the First and Fourteenth Amendments because it is obscene. No other basis appearing in the record upon which the judgment of conviction can be sustained, we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Mr. Justice Douglas wrote a Concurring Opinion in the case he stated in part: “being of the view that any ban on obscenity is prohibited by the First Amendment, made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth, concurs in the reversal of this conviction.”
Mr. Justice Brennan, with whom Mr. Justice Stewart and Mr. Justice Marshall join, concurring in the result stated in part: “Adopting a restatement of the Roth-Memoirs definition of ‘obscenity,’ the Court in Miller v. California (1973), held that obscene material could be regulated… It is clear that, tested by the constitutional standard, the Georgia obscenity statutes under which appellant Jenkins was convicted are constitutionally overbroad, and therefore facially invalid. I therefore concur in the result in the Court’s reversal of Jenkins’ conviction.
The Significance of this case is that a movie which was shown in movie theaters and made ‘top movie lists’ and such things, was found to be protected by the First Amendment. Imagine if this case would have gone the other direction… A lot of movies of the times could have been considered obscene as well. Such films as “Taxi Driver” or “Pretty Woman” could have not been created. I believe this case was a changing of the times, a case like this probably wouldn’t have been ruled this way in the 30s or 40s but in 1974 they decided to let loose.
Legal Brief by David A.W. Hittle
May 7, 2013