401 U.S. 82 (1971), 60, Perez v. Ledesma

Docket Nº:No. 60
Citation:401 U.S. 82, 91 S.Ct. 674, 27 L.Ed.2d 701
Party Name:Perez v. Ledesma
Case Date:February 23, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 82

401 U.S. 82 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 674, 27 L.Ed.2d 701




No. 60

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1971

Argued November 17, 1970




Appellees, who had been arrested and charged with violating a Louisiana statute and a parish ordinance by displaying for sale allegedly obscene material (which was seized by the arresting officers), brought this suit in the Federal District Court for a declaration that the statute and ordinance were unconstitutional, and for an injunction against their enforcement. A three-judge court which was convened upheld the statute and declined to issue an injunction, but, finding that the arrests and seizure were invalid, entered a suppression order prohibiting the use in state criminal proceedings of the illegally seized material and requiring its return to appellees. The three-judge court recognized that it had no jurisdiction to pass on the constitutionality of the ordinance, but expressed the view that the ordinance was invalid. The single-judge court then declared the ordinance unconstitutional. Appellants appealed directly to this Court from the suppression order and the declaratory judgment invalidating the ordinance.


1. The three-judge court erred in issuing the suppression order, and thereby stifling the then-pending good faith state criminal proceeding during which the defense should first raise its constitutional claims. Younger v. Harris, ante, p. 37. Pp. 84-85.

2. This Court has no jurisdiction to review on direct appeal the validity of the order declaring the ordinance invalid, since it was a decision of a single federal judge, and, as such, was appealable only to the Court of Appeals. Pp. 86-88.

304 F.Supp. 662, reversed in part, and vacated and remanded in part.

BLACK, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and HARLAN, STEWART, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. STEWART, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 89. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 90. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which WHITE and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 93.

Page 83

BLACK, J., lead opinion

[91 S.Ct. 676] MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Given our decisions today in No. 2, Younger v. Harris, ante, p. 37; No. 7, Samuels v. Mackell, and No. 9, Fernandez v. Mackell, ante, p. 66; No. 4, Boyle v. Landry, ante, p. 77; No. 83, Byrne v. Karalexis, post, p. 216; and No. 41, Dyson v. Stein, post, p. 200, in which we have determined when it is appropriate for a federal court to intervene in the administration of a State's criminal laws, the disposition of this case should not be difficult.


Ledesma and the other appellees operated a newsstand in the Parish of St. Bernard, Louisiana, where they displayed for sale allegedly obscene magazines, books, and playing cards. As a result of this activity, appellees were charged in four informations filed in state court with violations of Louisiana statute, La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 14:106 (Supp. 1970), and St. Bernard Parish Ordinance 210. After the state court proceedings had commenced by the filing of the informations, appellees instituted the instant suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division. Since the appellees sought a judgment declaring a state statute of state-wide application unconstitutional, together with an injunction against pending or future prosecutions under the statute, a three-judge court was convened. That court held the Louisiana statute constitutional on its face, but ruled that the arrests of appellees and the seizure of the allegedly obscene materials were invalid for lack of a prior adversary hearing on the character of the seized materials. Although the three-judge court declined to issue an injunction against the pending

Page 84

or any future prosecutions, it did enter a suppression order and require the return of all the seized material to the appellees. 304 F.Supp. 662, 667-670 (1969). The local district attorney and other law enforcement officers appealed, and we set the case for argument, but postponed the question of jurisdiction to the hearing on the merits. 399 U.S. 924 (1970).1

It is difficult to imagine a more disruptive interference with the operation of the state criminal process short of an injunction against all state proceedings. Even the three-judge court recognized that its judgment would effectively stifle the then-pending state criminal prosecution.

In view of our holding that the arrests and seizures in these cases are invalid for want of a prior adversary judicial determination of obscenity, which holding requires suppression and return of the seized materials, the prosecutions should be effectively terminated.

304 F.Supp. at 670. (Emphasis added.) Moreover, the District Court retained jurisdiction "for the purposes of hereafter entering any orders necessary to enforce" its view of the proper procedures in the then-pending state obscenity prosecution. According to our holding in Younger v. Harris, supra, such federal interference with a state prosecution is improper. The propriety of arrests and the admissibility of evidence in state criminal prosecutions are ordinarily matters to be resolved by state tribunals, see Stefanelli v. Minard, 342

Page 85

U.S. 117 (1951), subject, of course, to review by certiorari or appeal in this [91 S.Ct. 677] Court or, in a proper case, on federal habeas corpus. Here Ledesma was free to present his federal constitutional claims concerning arrest and seizure of materials or other matters to the Louisiana courts in the manner permitted in that State. Only in cases of proven harassment or prosecutions undertaken by state officials in bad faith without hope of obtaining a valid conviction, and perhaps in other extraordinary circumstances where irreparable injury can be shown, is federal injunctive relief against pending state prosecutions appropriate. See Younger v. Harris, supra; Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). There is nothing in the record before us to suggest that Louisiana officials undertook these prosecutions other than in a good faith attempt to enforce the State's criminal laws. We therefore hold that the three-judge court improperly intruded into the State's own criminal process, and reverse its orders suppressing evidence in the pending state prosecution and directing the return of all seized materials.


After crippling Louisiana's ability to enforce its criminal statute against Ledesma, the three-judge court expressed the view that the Parish of St. Bernard Ordinance 21-60 was invalid. Although the court below recognized that "it is not the function of a three-judge federal district court to determine the constitutionality or enjoin the enforcement of a local ordinance," the court nevertheless seized the "opportunity to express its views on the constitutionality of the ordinance." 304 F.Supp. 662, 670 n. 31 (1969). Judge Boyle, the District Judge who initially referred the action to the three-judge court, adopted that court's view and declared the parish ordinance invalid. There is considerable question concerning

Page 86

the propriety of issuing a declaratory judgment against a criminal law in the circumstances of this case.2


We are, however, unable to review the decision concerning the local ordinance, because this Court has no jurisdiction to review on direct appeal the validity of a declaratory judgment against a local ordinance, such as St. Bernard Parish Ordinance 21-60. Even if an order granting a declaratory judgment against the ordinance had been entered by the three-judge court below (which it had not), that court would have been acting in the capacity of a single-judge court. We held in Moody v. Flowers, 387 U.S. 97 (1967), that a three-judge court was not properly convened to consider the constitutionality of a statute of only local application, similar to a local ordinance. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1253, we have jurisdiction to consider on direct appeal only those civil actions "required . . . to be heard and determined" by a three-judge court. Since the constitutionality of this parish ordinance was not "required . . . to be heard and determined" by a three-judge panel, there is no jurisdiction in this Court to review that question.

The fact that a three-judge court was properly convened in this case to consider the injunctive relief requested against the enforcement of the state statute, does not give this Court jurisdiction on direct appeal over other controversies where there is no independent jurisdictional

Page 87

base. Even where a three-judge court is properly convened to consider one controversy between two [91 S.Ct. 678] parties, the parties are not necessarily entitled to a three-judge court and a direct appeal on other controversies that may exist between them.3 See Public Service Comm'n v. Brashear Freight Lines, 306 U.S. 204 (1939).

In this case, the order granting the declaratory judgment was not issued by a three-judge court, but rather by Judge Boyle, acting as a single district judge. The three-judge court stated:

The view expressed by this court concerning the constitutionality of the ordinance is shared by the initiating federal district judge, and is adopted by reference in his opinion issued contemporaneously herewith.

304 F.Supp. at 670 n. 31. (Emphasis added.) The last clause of the quoted sentence indicates what, under Moody v. Flowers, must be the case: the decision granting declaratory relief against the Parish of St. Bernard Ordinance 21-60 was the decision of a single federal judge. This...

To continue reading