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decided: January 27, 1896.



Author: Harlan

[ 161 U.S. Page 30]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error was indicted under section 3893 of the Revised Statutes, providing that "every obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, paper, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character, . . . and every article or thing intended or adapted for any indecent or immoral use, and every written or printed card, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind giving information, directly or indirectly, where, or how, or of whom, or by what means, any of the hereinbefore mentioned matters, articles, or things may be obtained or made, . . . are hereby declared to be non-mailable matter, and shall not be conveyed in the mails, nor delivered from any post office nor by any letter carrier; and any person who shall knowingly deposit, or cause to be deposited, for mailing or delivery, anything declared by this section to be non-mailable matter, and any person who shall knowingly take the same, or cause the same to be taken, from the mails, for the purpose of circulating, or disposing of, or of aiding in the circulation or disposition of the same, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall for each and every offence be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five thousand dollars, or imprisoned at hard labor not less than one year nor more than ten years, or both, at the discretion of the court. . . ."

The defendant pleaded not guilty, and the trial was entered

[ 161 U.S. Page 31]

     upon without objection in any form to the indictment as not sufficiently informing the defendant of the nature of the charge against him.

A verdict of guilty having been returned, the accused moved for a new trial upon the ground, among others, that the indictment was fatally defective in matters of substance. That motion was denied.

The defendant thereupon moved in arrest of judgment upon the ground that the indictment did not charge that he knew, at the time, what were the contents of the paper deposited in the mail and alleged to be lewd, obscene, and lascivious. This motion was also denied, and the accused was sentenced to imprisonment at hard labor during a period of thirteen months, and to pay a fine of one dollar.

The paper, "Broadway," referred to in the indictment, was produced in evidence, first, by the United States, and afterwards by the accused. The copy read in evidence by the government was the one which, it was admitted at the trial, the defendant had caused to be deposited in the mail. The pictures of females appearing in that copy were, by direction of the defendant, partially covered with lamp black that could be easily erased with a piece of bread. The object of sending them out in that condition was, of course, to excite a curiosity to know what was thus concealed. The accused read in evidence a copy that he characterized as a "clean" one, and in which the pictures of females, in different attitudes of indecency, were not obscured by lamp black.

The defendant having indicated his purpose to bring the case here for review, the court below ordered these papers to be sent to the clerk of this court with the transcript of the proceedings below.

1.The first contention of the plaintiff in error is, that the indictment was fatally defective in not alleging that the paper in question was deposited in the mail with knowledge on his part that it was obscene, lewd, and lascivious.

The indictment charged that the accused, on the 24th day of April, 1893, within the Southern District of New York, "did unlawfully, wilfully, and knowingly deposit and cause

[ 161 U.S. Page 32]

     to be deposited in the post office of the city of New York, for mailing and delivery by the post office establishment of the United States, a certain obscene, lewd, and lascivious paper; which said paper then and there, on the first page thereof, was entitled 'Tenderloin Number, Broadway,' and on the same page were printed the words and figures following -- that is to say: 'Volume II, number 27; trade-mark, 1892; by Lew Rosen; New York, Saturday, April 15, 1893; ten cents a copy, $4.00 a year, in advance;' and thereupon, on the same page, is a picture of a cab, horse, driver, and the figure of a female, together (underneath the said picture) with the word 'tenderloineuse,' and the said paper consists of twelve pages, minute descriptions of which, with the pictures therein and thereon, would be offensive to the court and improper to spread upon the records of the court, because of their obscene, lewd, and indecent matters; and the said paper, on the said twenty-fourth day of April, in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-three, was enclosed in a wrapper and addressed as follows -- that is to say, 'Mr. Geo. Edwards, P.O. box 510, Summit, N.J.' -- against the peace of the United States and their dignity and contrary to the statute of the United States in such case made and provided."

Undoubtedly the mere depositing in the mail of a writing, paper, or other publication of an obscene, lewd, or lascivious character is not an offence under the statute if the person making the deposit was, at the time and in good faith, without knowledge, information, or notice of its contents. The indictment would have been in better form if it had more distinctly charged that the accused was aware of its character. But this defect should be regarded, after verdict and under the circumstances attending the trial, as one of form under section 1025 of the Revised Statutes providing that the proceedings on an indictment found by a grand jury in any District, Circuit, or other court of the United States, shall not be affected "by reason of any defect or imperfection in matter of form only, which shall not tend to the prejudice of the defendant." United States v. Chase, 27 Fed. Rep. 807; United States v. Clark, 37 Fed. Rep. 106.

[ 161 U.S. Page 33]

     The indictment on its face implies that the defendant owned or managed the paper Broadway. He admitted at the trial that he owned and controlled it. He did not pretend that he was ignorant at the time of the contents of the particular number that he caused to be put in the post office at New York. The general charge that he "unlawfully, wilfully, and knowingly deposited and caused to be deposited in the post office . . . a certain obscene, lewd, and lascivious paper" -- describing it by its name, volume, number, date of trade-mark, date of issue, and as having on it the name of Lew Rosen, proprietor, the same name borne by the defendant -- may, not unreasonably, be construed as meaning that the defendant was, and must have been, aware of the nature of its contents at the time he caused it to be put into the post office for transmission and delivery. Of course he did not understand the government as claiming that the mere depositing in the post office of an obscene, lewd, and lascivious paper was an offence under the statute, if the person so depositing it had neither knowledge nor notice, at the time, of its character or contents. He must have understood from the words of the indictment that the government imputed to him knowledge or notice of the contents of the paper so deposited.

In their ordinary acceptation, the words "unlawfully, wilfully, and knowingly" when applied to an act or thing done, import knowledge of the act or thing so done, as well as an evil intent or bad purpose in doing such thing; and when used in an indictment in connection with the charge of having deposited in the mails an obscene, lewd, and lascivious paper, contrary to the statute in such case made and provided, could not have been construed as applying to the mere depositing in the mail of a paper the contents of which at the time were wholly unknown to the person depositing it. The case is therefore not one of the total omission from the indictment of an essential averment, but, at most, one of the inaccurate or imperfect statement of a fact; and such statement, after verdict, may be taken in the broadest sense authorized by the words used, even if it be adverse to the accused.

2. The defendant also contends that the indictment was

[ 161 U.S. Page 34]

     fatally defective, in that it did not set out with reasonable particularity those parts of the paper relied on to support the charge in the indictment. He insists that the omission from the indictment of a description of the pictures of female figures found in the paper was in violation of the constitutional guaranty that the defendant in a criminal case shall be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. Sixth Amendment.

A defendant is informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him if the indictment contains such description of the offence charged as will enable him to make his defence and to plead the judgment in bar of any further prosecution for the same crime. Does the indictment in this case meet these requirements? It describes the paper alleged to be obscene, lewd, and lascivious with such minuteness as to leave no possible doubt as to its identity. If the defendant did not have in his possession or could not procure a duplicate of such paper, he could have applied to the court for an order that he be furnished with a bill of particulars to the end that he might properly defend himself at the trial. United States v. Bennett, 16 Blatchford, 338, 351; Rex v. Hodgson, 3 Car. & P. 422; Wharton's Cr. Pl. & Pr. ยง 702. He made no such application but went to trial without suggesting that he was not sufficiently informed by the indictment of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. When the paper in question was produced in evidence he made no objection to it as not being sufficiently described in the indictment, but at the conclusion of the evidence on the part of the prosecution moved to dismiss on the ground that the paper was not obscene. This motion having been overruled he testified in his own behalf, offering in evidence a duplicate of the same paper, admitting that lamp black -- capable of being easily removed so as to bring each offensive picture in full view of any person receiving or inspecting the paper -- had by his direction been put on the entire edition of April 15, 1893. He now insists that the indictment was fatally defective, because it did not disclose in detail the contents of the twelve pages that were charged to constitute an obscene, lewd, and lascivious paper.

[ 161 U.S. Page 35]

     If it be said that he did not know what part of the twelve pages were considered by the grand jury as obscene, lewd, and lascivious, the answer is that he was not entitled to know what passed in the conferences of grand jurors. He was not entitled to show, as matter of defence, that the grand jury proceeded on insufficient grounds. He had to meet only the case made by the indictment and by the evidence adduced by the government. And if he wished to be informed, before entering upon the trial, what particular parts of the paper would be relied on as bringing the case within the statute, he could, as already suggested, have applied for a bill of particulars, which the court, in the exercise of a sound legal discretion, might have granted or refused as the ends of justice required.

The principal authority relied on in support of the defendant's contention is the case in England of an indictment for publishing an obscene libel, namely, "a certain indecent, lewd, filthy, and obscene book called 'Fruits of Philosophy,' thereby contaminating, vitiating, and corrupting the morals, etc." The jury found that the book was obscene, and a motion in arrest of judgment was made by the accused. The motion was denied, Cockburn, C.J., Mellor, J., concurring, held: "If the omission is in the indictment -- if that be the objection, and it be a valid one -- it is an objection that ought to have been taken by demurrer, and, therefore, I cannot help thinking that, upon the balance of convenience we shall act more wisely in saying that the judgment pronounced on this indictment ought not to be set aside by making the motion absolute to arrest the judgment; but if there be any valid foundation for the contention the defendants have raised upon the indictment it should be taken by demurrer." Queen v. Bradlaugh, 2 Q.B.D. 569, 573. The judgment was reversed in the Court of Appeal, which held that in an indictment for publishing an ...

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