Marks v. United States v. 1976, No. 75-708

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPOWELL
PartiesStanley MARKS et al., Petitioners v. UNITED STATES. Argued Nov. 1-2, 1976
Decision Date01 March 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75-708

430 U.S. 188
97 S.Ct. 990
51 L.Ed.2d 260
Stanley MARKS et al., Petitioners

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 75-708.
Argued Nov. 1-2, 1976.
Decided March 1, 1977.

Syllabus

Petitioners were convicted of transporting obscene materials in violation of a federal statute. The conduct that gave rise to the charge occurred before Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S.Ct. 2607, 37 L.Ed.2d 419, was decided, announcing new standards for 'isolat(ing) 'hard core' pornography from expression protected by the First Amendment,' id., at 29, 93 S.Ct., at 2617. Held: The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment precludes retroactive application to petitioners of the Miller standards, to the extent that those standards may impose criminal liability for conduct not punishable under the standards announced in Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413, 86 S.Ct. 975, 16 L.Ed.2d 1. Bouie v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 347, 84 S.Ct. 1697, 12 L.Ed.2d 894. Specifically, petitioners are entitled to jury instructions requiring the jury to acquit unless it finds that the materials involved are 'utterly without redeeming social value.' At the same time, any constitutional principle announced in Miller that would serve to benefit petitioners must be applied in their case. Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 102, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 2899, 41 L.Ed.2d 590. Pp. 189-197.

520 F.2d 913, reversed and remanded.

Solicitor Gen. Robert H. Bork, Washington, D. C., for respondent.

Robert Eugene Smith, Atlanta, Ga., for petitioners.

Mr. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question, not fully answered in Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 41 L.Ed.2d 590 (1974), whether the

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standards announced in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S.Ct. 2607, 37 L.Ed.2d 419 (1973), are to be applied retroactively to the potential detriment of a defendant in a criminal case. We granted certiorari, 424 U.S. 942, 96 S.Ct. 1408, 47 L.Ed.2d 347 (1976), to resolve a conflict in the Circuits.1

I

Petitioners were charged with several counts of transporting obscene materials in interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1465, and with conspiracy to transport such materials, 18 U.S.C. § 371. The conduct that gave rise to the charges covered a period through February 27, 1973.

Page 190

Trial did not begin until the following October. In the interim, on June 21, 1973, this Court decided Miller v. California, supra, and its companion cases.2 Miller announced new standards for 'isolat(ing) 'hard core' pornography from expression protected by the First Amendment.' 413 U.S., at 29, 93 St.Ct. at 2617.3 That these new standards would also guide the future interpretation of the federal obscenity laws was clear from United States v. 12 200-ft. Reels of Film, 413 U.S. 123, 129-130, and n. 7, 93 S.Ct. 2665, 2669, 2670, 37 L.Ed.2d 500 (1973), decided the same day as Miller. See Hamling v. United States, supra, 418 U.S., at 105, 113-114, 94 S.Ct., at 2901, 2905-2906.

Petitioners argued in the District Court that they were entitled to jury instructions not under Miller, but under the more favorable formulation of Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U.S. 413, 86 S.Ct. 975, 16 L.Ed.2d 1 (1966) (plurality opinion).4 Memoirs, in their

Page 191

view, authoritatively stated the law in effect prior to Miller, by which petitioners charted their course of conduct. They focused in particular on the third part of the Memoirs test. Under it, expressive material is constitutionally protected unless it is 'utterly without redeeming social value.' 383 U.S., at 418, 86 S.Ct., at 977. Under Miller the comparable test is 'whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.' 413 U.S., at 24, 93 S.Ct., at 2615. Miller, petitioners argue, casts a significantly wider net than Memoirs. To apply Miller retroactively, and thereby punish conduct innocent under Memoirs, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment much as retroactive application of a new statute to penalize conduct innocent when performed would violate the Constitution's ban on ex post facto laws, Art. I, § 9, cl. 3; § 10, cl. 1. The District Court overruled these objections and instructed the jury under the Miller standards. Petitioners were convicted, 5 and a divided Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.6 520 F.2d 913 (1975). We now reverse.

II

The Ex Post Facto Clause is a limitation upon the powers of the Legislature, see Calder v. Bull, 3 Dall. 386, 1 L.Ed. 648 (1798), and does not of its own force apply to the Judicial Branch of government. Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 344, 35 S.Ct. 582, 593, 59 L.Ed. 969 (1915). But the principle on which the Clause is based the notion that persons have a right to fair warning of that conduct which will give rise to criminal penalties is fundamental to our concept of constitutional liberty. See United States v.

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Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617, 74 S.Ct. 808, 811, 98 L.Ed. 989 (1954); Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 453, 59 S.Ct. 618, 619, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939). As such, that right is protected against judicial action by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. In Bouie v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 347, 84 S.Ct. 1697, 12 L.Ed.2d 894 (1964), a case involving the cognate provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court reversed trespass convictions, finding that they rested on an unexpected construction of the state trespass statute by the State Supreme Court:

'(A)n unforeseeable judicial enlargement of a criminal statute, applied retroactively, operates precisely like an ex post facto law, such as Art. I, § 10, of the Constitution forbids. . . . If a state legislature is barred by the Ex Post Facto Clause from passing such a law, it must follow that a State Supreme Court is barred by the Due Process Clause from achieving precisely the same result by judicial construction.' Id., at 353-354, 84 S.Ct., at 1703.

Similarly, in Rabe v. Washington, 405 U.S. 313, 93 S.Ct. 993, 31 L.Ed.2d 258 (1972), we reversed a conviction under a state obscenity law because it rested on an unforeseeable judicial construction of the statute. We stressed that reversal was mandated because affected citizens lacked fair notice that the statute would be thus applied.

Relying on Bouie, petitioners assert that Miller and its companion cases unforeseeably expanded the reach of the federal obscenity statutes beyond what was punishable under Memoirs. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument. It noted correctly that the Memoirs standards never commanded the assent of more than three Justices at any one time, and it apparently concluded from this fact that Memoirs never became the law. By this line of reasoning, one must judge whether Miller expanded criminal liability by looking not to Memoirs but to Roth v. United States, 354

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U.S. 476, 77 S.Ct. 1304, 1 L.Ed.2d 1498 (1957), the last comparable plenary decision of this Court prior to Miller in which a majority united in a single opinion announcing the rationale behind the Court's holding.7 Although certain language in Roth formed the basis for the plurality's formulation in Memoirs, Roth's test for distinguishing obscenity from protected speech was a fairly simple one to articulate: 'whether to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material taken as a whole appeals to prurient interest.' 354 U.S., at 489, 77 S.Ct., at 1311. If indeed Roth, not Memoirs, stated the applicable law prior to Miller, there would be much to commend the apparent view of the Court of Appeals that Miller did not significantly change the law.

But we think the basic premise for this line of reasoning is faulty. When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, 'the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds . . ..' Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 169 n. 15, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2923, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976) (opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.). Three Justices joined in the controlling opinion in Memoirs. Two others, Mr. Justice Black and Mr. Justice Douglas, concurred on broader grounds in reversing the judgment below. 383 U.S., at 421, 424, 86 S.Ct., at 978, 980. They reiterated their well-known position that the First Amendment provides an absolute shield against governmental action aimed at suppressing obscenity. Mr. Justice Stewart also concurred in the judgment, based on his view that only 'hardcore pornography' may be suppressed. Id., at 421, 86 S.Ct., at 978. See Ginzburg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463, 499, 86 S.Ct. 942, 956, 16 L.Ed.2d 31 (1966)

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(Stewart, J., dissenting). The view of the Memoirs plurality therefore constituted the holding of the Court and provided the governing standards. Indeed, every Court of Appeals that considered the question between Memoirs and Miller so read our decisions.8 Materials were deemed to be constitutionally protected unless the prosecution carried the burden of proving that they were 'utterly without redeeming social value,' and otherwise satisfied the stringent Memoirs requirements.

Memoirs therefore was the law. Miller did not simply clarify Roth; it marked a significant departure from Memoirs. And there can be little doubt that the third test announced in Miller whether the work 'lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value' expanded criminal liability. The Court in Miller expressly observed that the 'utterly without redeeming social value' test places on the prosecutor 'a burden virtually impossible to discharge under our criminal standards of proof.' 413 U.S., at 22, 93 S.Ct., at 2613. Clearly it was thought that some conduct which would have gone unpunished under Memoirs would result in conviction under Miller.

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