Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The Supreme Court of the United States holds that the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute, La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 14 (1950), as authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, incorporates constitutionally invalid standards in the context of criticism of the official conduct of public officials. For, contrary to the New York Times rule, which absolutely prohibits punishment of truthful criticism, the statute directs punishment for true statements made with "actual malice." And "actual malice" is defined to mean "hatred, ill will or enmity or a wanton desire to injure." Section 14 is also unconstitutional as interpreted to cover false statements against public officials. The New York Times standard forbids the punishment of false statements, unless made with knowledge of their falsity or in reckless disregard of whether they are true or false. But § 14 punishes false statements without regard to that test if made with ill-will; even if ill-will is not established, a false statement concerning public officials can be punished if not made in the reasonable belief of its truth.
During a dispute with the judges of the Criminal District Court of the Parish of New Orleans, the district attorney for the parish held a press conference at which he attributed a large backlog of pending criminal cases to the inefficiency, laziness, and excessive vacations of the judges, and accused them of hampering his enforcement of the vice laws by refusing to authorize the expenses for the necessary investigations. He was tried without a jury before a judge from another parish and convicted, in the Criminal District Court of the Parish of New Orleans, of criminal defamation as defined in a Louisiana statute. The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed the conviction. The Louisiana Supreme Court interpreted the statute as permitting punishment of truthful criticism of public officials if made with actual malice, and punishment of false statements made with ill will.
Did the Louisiana statute, as authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, incorporate constitutionally invalid standards in the context of criticism of the official conduct of public officials?
The court held that the rule announced in New York Times Co. v Sullivan, 376 US 254, 11 L ed 2d 686, 84 S Ct 710, under which the Federal Constitution limits state power, in a civil action brought by a public official for criticism of his official conduct, to an award of damages for a false statement made with actual malice, also limits state power to impose criminal sanctions for such criticism. The district attorney's statement was within the purview of criticism of the official conduct of public officials, entitled to the benefit of the New York Times rule, and finally, the court found that the Louisiana defamation statute, as applied in the present case, violated the constitutional guaranties of free speech.