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Law School Case Brief

Cox v. Louisiana - 379 U.S. 559, 85 S. Ct. 476 (1965)

Rule:

The Due Process Clause prevents conviction of persons for refusing to answer questions of a state investigating commission when they rely upon assurances of the commission, either express or implied, that they have a privilege under state law to refuse to answer, though in fact this privilege is not available to them.

Facts:

Defendant B. Elton Cox was charged under La. Rev. Stat. § 14:401 (1962), interfering with, obstruction, or impeding the administration of justice after he organized a large demonstration of black citizens to protest the incarceration of other blacks. The evidence showed that the demonstration involved up to 3,800 people, who congregated around the blocks surrounding the courthouse. Defendant was convicted in the Nineteenth Judicial District for the Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, of picketing "near" a courthouse as well as "disturbing the peace" and "obstructing a public passage." The three convictions were affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Defendant appealed, arguing that the statute was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to him. The United States Supreme Court noted probable jurisdiction as to all three convictions, but only addressed the conviction under § 14:401 (1962) in this opinion.

Issue:

Did the conviction of picketing near the courthouse 3violate due process of law because the city officials told the demonstrators that they could meet where they did?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court held that § 14:401 was a valid law dealing with conduct subject to regulation. However, the Due Process Clause did not permit defendant's conviction. The officials present gave permission for the demonstration to take place across the street from the courthouse. At no time did the police recommend that the demonstration be held further from the courthouse than it actually was conducted. The Court determined that the police had prior notice that the demonstration was planned to be held in the vicinity of the courthouse. Defendant was advised that the location of the demonstration would not be one near the courthouse within the terms of § 14:401. Defendant's conviction could not be sustained on the basis of the sheriff's dispersal order.

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