Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gooding v. Wilson case brief

Gooding v. Wilson case brief summary
405 U.S. 518 (1972)

Defendant was found guilty of using opprobrious words and abusive language in violation of O.G.C.A. § 26-6303. After various steps in defendant's habeas corpus action, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and broad and set aside defendant's conviction. The State appealed.

Defendant picketed a building in which the United States Army was located in opposition to the war in Vietnam. When inductees arrived, there was a scuffle. Defendant committed assault and battery on two police officers and used opprobrious and abusive words. The State contended that O.G.C.A. § 26-6303 was narrowly drawn to apply only to a constitutionally unprotected class of words, namely fighting words.


  • The Court rejected the State's argument and found that the statute had not been construed to be limited in application to words that had a direct tendency to cause acts of violence the person to whom, individually, the remark was addressed. 
  • Further, the Court held that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech prohibited the states from punishing the use of words or language not within limited classes of speech, such as fighting words. 
  • The Court found that defendant was permitted to raise a statute's vagueness or unconstitutional overbreadth as applied to others. 
  • The Court found that a statute must be carefully drawn or authoritatively construed to punish only unprotected speech to avoid violation of the First Amendment.

The Court affirmed the appellate court decision.

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