In JACOBELLIS V. OHIO, decided on 22 June 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed its right to independently determine whether a particular work is obscene and therefore not entitled to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. Overturning the conviction of Nico Jacobellis, manager of the Heights Art Theatre in Cleveland Hts., for possessing and exhibiting an allegedly obscene motion picture, the Court ruled that the film in question did not meet the obscenity test and could be publicly shown. The motion picture, Les Amants (The Lovers), was first shown locally 13 Nov. 1959 at the Hts. Art Theatre. Answering a complaint, local law-enforcement officials raided the theater, confiscated the film, and arrested Jacobellis. Waiving a jury trial, he was tried before a panel of 3 judges and found guilty on 2 counts of possessing and exhibiting an obscene film. He was fined $2,500 and sentenced to the county workhouse if the fines were not paid. The conviction was affirmed by an intermediate appellate court, and in Jan. 1962 the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that applying local community standards, the film was without redeeming social importance. The U.S. Supreme Court's 6-2 decision reversed Jacobellis's conviction. The majority opinion, written by Justice William Brennan, reviewed the test for obscenity, i.e., whether the average person applying contemporary community standards found that the dominant theme of a work appealed to lewd and lascivious interests. It added that the material must also be utterly without redeeming social importance in order to be denied constitutional protection. Noting that the charge against Les Amants was based almost entirely upon 1 explicit scene near the end of the picture, the Court ruled that the film was not obscene. It further defined contemporary community standards as those of the nation as a whole rather than those of a particular local community. The majority concluded that the conviction violated the 1st Amendment and the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment.


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