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Supreme Court of the United States
February 22, 1971, Argued ; June 7, 1971, Decided
[*15] [***288] [**1783] MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case may seem at first blush too inconsequential to find its way into our books, but the issue it presents is of no small constitutional significance.
[*16] Appellant Paul Robert Cohen was convicted in the Los Angeles Municipal Court of violating that part of ] California Penal Code § 415 which prohibits "maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person . . . by . . . offensive conduct . . . ." 1 He was given 30 days' imprisonment. The facts upon which his conviction [****3] rests are detailed in the opinion of the Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, as follows:
[***289] "On April 26, 1968, the defendant was observed in the Los Angeles County [**1784] Courthouse in the corridor outside of division 20 of the municipal court wearing a jacket bearing the words '*** the Draft' which were plainly visible. There were women and children present in the corridor. The defendant was arrested. The defendant testified that he wore the jacket knowing that the words were on the jacket as a means of informing the public of the depth of his feelings against the Vietnam War and the draft.
"The defendant did not engage in, nor threaten to engage in, nor did anyone as the result of his conduct [*17] in fact commit or threaten to commit any act of violence. The defendant did not make any loud or unusual noise, nor was there any evidence that he uttered any sound prior to his arrest." 1 Cal. App. 3d 94, 97-98, 81 Cal. Rptr. 503, 505 (1969).
[****4] In affirming the conviction the Court of Appeal held that "offensive conduct" means "behavior which has a tendency to provoke others to acts of violence or to in turn disturb the peace," and that the State had proved this element because, on the facts of this case, "it was certainly reasonably foreseeable that such conduct might cause others to rise up to commit a violent act against the person of the defendant or attempt to forceably remove his jacket." 1 Cal. App. 3d, at 99-100, 81 Cal. Rptr., at 506. The California Supreme Court declined review by a divided vote. 2 We brought the case here, postponing the consideration of the question of our jurisdiction over this appeal to a hearing of the case on the merits. 399 U.S. 904. We now reverse.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
403 U.S. 15 *; 91 S. Ct. 1780 **; 29 L. Ed. 2d 284 ***; 1971 U.S. LEXIS 32 ****
COHEN v. CALIFORNIA
Prior History: [****1] APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, SECOND APPELLATE DISTRICT.
Disposition: 1 Cal. App. 3d 94, 81 Cal. Rptr. 503, reversed.
words, violent, rests, offensive conduct, message, convey, views
Criminal Law & Procedure, Disruptive Conduct, Disorderly Conduct & Disturbing the Peace, Elements, Crimes Against Persons, General Overview, Penalties, Acts & Mental States, Mens Rea, Willfulness, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Fighting Words, Scope, Obscenity