Thursday, November 7, 2013

Debs v. United States case brief

Debs v. United States case brief summary
249 U.S. 211 (1919)

Defendant sought review of a judgment of the District Court of the United States for the Northern District of Ohio, which convicted him, upon a jury verdict, of violating the Espionage Act of June 15, 1917, ch. 30, § 3, 40 Stat. 217, 219, as amended by the Act of May 16, 1918, ch. 75, § 1, 40 Stat. 553. Defendant was alleged to have incited refusal of duty in the military and obstruction of the recruiting and enlistment service by his speech.

Defendant was indicted under the Espionage Act after he gave a speech to a crowd in which he advocated socialism and expressed opposition to Prussian militarism in a way that naturally might have been thought to have been intended to include the mode of proceeding in the United States. At trial, he told the jury that his speech did not warrant the charges but that he did abhor and oppose war. He was convicted.

On appeal, the Court found that defendant's statement was not necessary to warrant the jury in finding that one purpose of the speech, whether incidental or not, was to oppose not only war in general but World War I, and that the opposition was so expressed that its natural and intended effect would be to obstruct recruiting. If that was intended and if, in all the circumstances, that would be its probable effect, the speech was not protected by reason of its having been part of a general program and expressions of a general and conscientious belief. In affirming, the Court concluded that when the delivery of the speech in such words and such circumstances that the probable effect was to prevent recruiting, it was punishable under the Espionage Act.

The Court affirmed defendant's conviction under the Espionage Act.

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