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Law School Case Brief

Balzac v. Porto Rico - 258 U.S. 298, 42 S. Ct. 343 (1922)

Rule:

P.R. Penal Code § 244 provides that the publication of a libel is made punishable by a fine not exceeding $5,000, or imprisonment in jail for a term not exceeding two years, or both such fine and imprisonment, and also the costs of the action in the discretion of the court. It is plain that libel under the Puerto Rican law is a misdemeanor and a jury trial was not required therein.

Facts:

Defendant was convicted for misdemeanor criminal libel. He was the editor of a daily newspaper published in Puerto Rico. He challenged the decision on the ground that he was denied the right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

Issue:

Did the absence of jury trial in a publisher"s conviction for misdemeanor criminal libel in Puerto Rico violate defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the conviction. The court held that  the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution did not apply to Puerto Rico because Congress did not specifically incorporate Puerto Rico into the United States through the Jones Act, 39 Stat. 951. The court noted that the application of the Constitution was determined by the locality of the person, not the person's citizenship and therefore, a United States citizen living in Puerto Rico could not demand a jury trial under the Constitution any more than a citizen of Puerto Rico could.

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