Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire case brief

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire case brief summary
315 U.S. 568 (1942)

Appellant sought review from a judgment of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirming appellant's conviction under a state law, N.H. Pub. Laws ch. 378, § 2, which prohibited the use of offensive or annoying words when addressing another individual in a public place.

Appellant was convicted under a New Hampshire statute, N.H. Pub. Laws ch. 378, § 2, for using offensive language towards another person in public. Appellant contended that the statute was invalid under U.S. Constitutional Amendment XIV because it placed an unreasonable restraint on freedom of speech and because it was vague and indefinite.


  • The lower court's decision was affirmed.  
  • The court noted that there were certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which had never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem, such as "fighting" words. 
  • The lower court declared that the statute's purpose was to preserve public peace, and in appellant's case, the forbidden words were those that had a direct tendency to cause acts of violence. 
  • Furthermore, the word "offensive" was not defined in terms of what a particular addressee thought, it was defined as what reasonable men of common intelligence understood as words likely to cause an average addressee to fight. 
  • The court held that the statute was narrowly drawn and limited to define and punish specific conduct lying within the domain of the state power.

The court affirmed appellant's conviction under the statute prohibiting the use of offensive words towards another in a public place. The challenged statute, on its face and as applied, did not contravene the Fourteenth Amendment, as it did no more than prohibit the face-to-face words plainly likely to cause a breach of the peace by the addressee.

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