135 U.S. 255 (1890), United States v. Chase

Citation135 U.S. 255, 10 S.Ct. 756, 34 L.Ed. 117
Party NameUNITED STATES v. CHASE.
Case DateApril 28, 1890
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 255

135 U.S. 255 (1890)

10 S.Ct. 756, 34 L.Ed. 117

UNITED STATES

v.

CHASE.

United States Supreme Court.

April 28, 1890

COUNSEL

[10 S.Ct. 756] Asst. Atty. Gen. Maury.

Warren O. Kyle, for defendant.

OPINION

LAMAR, J.

This was an indictment on the act of congress of July 12, 1876, c. 186, found and returned in the district court, and remitted, pursuant to section 1037 of the Revised Statutes, to the court below, charging that on the twenty-fifth day of January, 1876, at North Attleborough, in the district of Massachusetts, Leslie G. Chase did unlawfully and knowingly deposit, and cause to be deposited, in the mails of the said United States, then and there for mailing and delivery, a certain obscene, lewd, and lascivious letter, which said letter was then and there non-mailable matter, as declared by section one of an act of congress approved on the twelfth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-six, and which said letter is, and then and there was, so grossly obscene, lewd, and lascivious, that the same would be offensive to the court here, and is unfit and improper to appear upon the records thereof, wherefore the jurors aforesaid do

Page 256

not set forth the same in this indictment, which said letter was then and there inclosed in a certain paper wrapper, which said wrapper was then and there addressed and directed as follows, that is is to say, 'Watchweer Print, Providence, R. I.,' against the peace and dignity of the said United States, and contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided.' After a plea of guilty had been entered, and before sentence, a motion in arrest of judgment was made, on the following grounds: '(1) The indictment does not set forth the contents of the letter which is alleged to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, and non-mailable, nor does it describe said letter, or any part thereof; nor does it in any way identify said letter. (2) The indictment does not allege that the defendant knew the contents of said letter at the time of the alleged deposit thereof in the mails of the said United States. (3) The indictment does not allege that the defendant deposited said letter in the mails of the said United States for the purpose of circulating and disposing of, or of aiding in the circulation or disposition of, anything declared to be non-mailable matter by any law of the United States. (4) The indictment does not allege that the defendant deposited, or caused to be deposited, for mailing or delivery, anything declared to be non-mailable by section one (1) of an act of congress approved on the 12th day of July, A. D. 1876, or by any law of the United States. (5) The indictment does not charge the defendant with any offense.'

At the hearing in the circuit court upon the motion in arrest of judgment, the following questions arose, upon which the judges by whom the court was held were divided in opinion, viz.: 'First. Is the knowingly depositing in the mails of an obscene letter inclosed in an envelope or wrapper upon which there is nothing but the name and address of the person to whom the letter is written, an offense within the act of July 12, 1876, c. 186?

Page 257

Second. Does this indictment allege that the defendant deposited, or caused to be deposited, for mailing or delivery, anything declared to be non-mailable matter by that act, or by any law of the United States? Third. Does this indictment charge the defendant with any offense? Thereupon, at the request of the counsel for the United States, it is ordered that these questions be stated as aforesaid, and be certified under the seal of this court to the supreme court of the United States at its next session.'

Objection is taken to the consideration of the questions presented by this certificate of division for several reasons, none of which are deemed sufficient to preclude our taking jurisdiction of the case; and we shall, therefore, proceed to consider the questions certified in the order they are arranged in the certificate. Section 1 of the act July 12, 1876, (19 St. 90,) on which this indictment is founded, is as follows: 'Every obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, paper, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character, and every article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion, and every article or thing intended or adapted for any indecent or immoral use, and every written or printed card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind, giving information, directly or indirectly, where or how or of whom or by what means any of the hereinbefore mentioned matters, articles, or things may be obtained or made, and every letters upon the [10 S.Ct. 757] envelope of which, or postal card upon which, indecent, lewd, obscene, or lascivious delineations, epithets, terms, or language may be written or printed, are hereby declared to be non-mailable matter, and shall not be conveyed in the mails nor delivered from any post-office nor by any letter carrier; and any person who shall knowingly...

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