Miller v. California Case Brief

Summary of Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973)

Facts: Mr. Miller sent five unsolicited advertising brochures through the mail addressed to a restaurant. When opened the manager and his mother complained to the police. The brochures advertised four adult book titles and an adult movie. Some descriptive language, pictures and drawings of men and women engaged sexually were displayed.

Issue(s): Whether material, included in a mass-mailing program, soliciting the sale of adult books and movies can be subjected to state regulation as a criminal offense?

Holding: Yes, but limited to where the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; portrays sexual conduct specifically defined by state law in a patently offensive way; and taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

Procedure: Jury convicted Miller of a misdemeanor distribution of obscenity charge. Appellate Dept Superior Ct Affirmed b/c statute was based on and reflected Memoir test. USSCt Vacated and Remanded.

Rule(s): 1st and 14th Amend

Rationale: States have an legit interest in prohibiting the dissemination or exhibition of obscene material when the mode used has a significant danger of offending unwilling recipients or there’s a risk of exposure to juveniles.

1st must Define the standard used to i/d obscene material that a state may regulate w/o infringing on the 1st Amend through the 14th.

Roth – the mailing obscene materials does not rec’v 1st Amend protection. Then in Memoirs a new three part test for obscenity was created; 1) dominant theme of prurient interest in sex; 2) material is patently offensive to current community standards; and 3) material is utterly without a redeeming social value. Problem with Memoir test: Required proof obscenity was utterly w/o social value, the prosecution had to prove a negative as an impossible BoP in criminal case. This standard is no longer the Const’l standard.

No state since Roth has been able to agree on a standard to determine what constitutes obscenity subject to state regulation.

Under U.S. Const 1st Amend limitations on state powers do not vary from community to community, but this does not mean a fixed, uniform national standard of what precisely appeals to the prurient interest or what is “patently offensive." If a jury applies the standard of an average person under the current community standards, the material will be adjudged by its impact on an average person and not a sensitive person.

DISSENT: J.Douglas, suspect material must first be condemned as obscene in a civil proceeding, and then only after if a party continues to publish, show, etc. then a vague law has been made specific, and a criminal prosecution at that point would not violate void for vagueness test.

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