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Conviction upon a charge not made is the sheer denial of due process. Peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime. The holding of meetings for peaceable political action cannot be proscribed. Those who assist in the conduct of such meetings cannot be branded as criminals on that score. The question, if the rights of free speech and peaceable assembly are to be preserved, is not as to the auspices under which the meeting is held but as to its purpose; not as to the relations of the speakers, but whether their utterances transcend the bounds of the freedom of speech which the Constitution protects. If the persons assembling have committed crimes elsewhere, if they have formed or are engaged in a conspiracy against the public peace and order, they may be prosecuted for their conspiracy or other violation of valid laws. But it is a different matter when the State, instead of prosecuting them for such offenses, seizes upon mere participation in a peaceable assembly and a lawful public discussion as the basis for a criminal charge.
Appellant Dirk De Jonge was convicted under the Criminal Syndicalism Law of Oregon, Or. Code §§ 14-3110 - 14-3112 (1930) (as amended) for conducting a meeting under the auspices of the Communist Party. The Act defined criminal syndicalism as the doctrine which advocates crime, physical violence, sabotage or any unlawful acts or methods as a means of accomplishing or effecting industrial or political change or revolution. With this preliminary definition, the Act proceeded to describe a number of offenses, embracing the teaching of criminal syndicalism, the printing or distribution of books, pamphlets, etc., advocating that doctrine, the organization of a society or assemblage which advocates it, and presiding at or assisting in conducting a meeting of such an organization, society or group. The prohibited acts were made felonies, punishable by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years, or by a fine of not more than $ 1,000, or by both. The state supreme court affirmed his conviction, and defendant appealed, contending that the syndicalism law was unconstitutional in its application as to him.
Was the conviction of appellant proper?
The Court found that appellant was convicted for merely assisting at a meeting called by the Communist Party at which nothing unlawful was done or advocated. Thus, expounding upon the fundamental constitutional rights of free speech and peaceable assembly, the Court ruled that appellant’s conviction was in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court explained that although the State could intervene against abuses of the rights of free speech and assembly, the rights themselves could not be curtailed. Therefore, the judgment of conviction was reversed and the cause was remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.