Saturday, October 21, 2006

Garrison vs. Louisiana

Just as the United States Supreme Court handed down the actual malice standard in New York Times Co. versus L.B. Sullivan in 1964, in that same year, it was confronted with the issue as to whether the actual malice standard should be applied in criminal libel. The New York Times ruling, it is noted, was a civil case for damages.
In Garrison versus Louisiana, decided in November 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the actual malice standard is to be applied in criminal libel.
Here is a little trivia. If you watched the Oliver Stone movie JFK, which starred Kevin Costner, it was Jim Garrison's character performed by Costner.
Jim Garrison was the Louisiana District Attorney who investigated and prosecuted Clay Shaw and others, on the theory that the assasination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy was a high-level conspiracy involving the of the CIA, anti-Fidel Castro Cuban exiles, homosdexuals and ultra-right wing activists.
So Jim Garrison is not a stranger to publicity and high profile cases. He is much better known as the person who spearheaded the only trial of the Kennedy assasination.
In this landmark defamation case, he got entangled with judges in Louisiana whom he strongly criticized for not releasing funds to help him in his anti-vice campaign as district attorney.
The judges sued him for criminal libel.
Garrison was convcited in the lower court. The state Supreme Court sustained the conviction where he was fined $1,000.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and rendered unconstitutional the Louisian criminal defamation statute.
Below is a digest I made of this landmark case.

Jim Garrison versus Louisiana
379 U.S. 64 (1964)
Decided on November 23, 1964

Appellant Jim Garrison, whose original name was Earling Carothers Garrison, was the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana. During a dispute with the eight judges of the Criminal District Court of the Parish, he held a press conference at which he issued a statement disparaging their judicial conduct.

As a result, he was tried without a jury before a judge from another parish and convicted of criminal defamation under the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute. The principal charges alleged to be defamatory were his attribution of a large backlog of pending criminal cases to the inefficiency, laziness, and excessive vacations of the judges, and his accusation that, by refusing to authorize disbursements to cover the expenses of undercover investigations of vice in New Orleans, the judges had hampered his efforts to enforce the vice laws. In impugning their motives, he said:
"The judges have now made it eloquently clear where their sympathies lie in regard to aggressive vice investigations by refusing to authorize use of the DA's funds to pay for the cost of closing down the Canal Street clip joints . . . .
. . . . .
". . . This raises interesting questions about the racketeer influences on our eight vacation-minded judges."

A detailed history of his legal squirmishes with Louisiana judges has been recorded.

The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed the conviction.


Whether the New York Times actual malice rule also limits state power to impose criminal sanctions for criticism of the official conduct of public officials.

Should truth as a defense be negated on a showing of malice in the sense of ill-will?

Where criticism of public officials is concerned, we see no merit in the argument that criminal libel statutes serve interests distinct from those secured by civil libel laws, and therefore should not be subject to the same limitations.
Where the criticism is of public officials and their conduct of public business, the interest in private reputation is overborne by the larger public interest, secured by the Constitution, in the dissemination of truth.
We held in New York Times that a public official might be allowed the civil remedy only if he establishes that the utterance was false and that it was made with knowledge of its falsity or in reckless disregard of whether it was false or true. The reasons which led us so to hold in New York Times, apply with no less force merely because the remedy is criminal.
The constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression compel application of the same standard to the criminal remedy. Truth may not be the subject of either civil or criminal sanctions where discussion of public affairs is concerned. And since ". . . erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and . . . it must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the `breathing space' that they `need . . . to survive' . . .," only those false statements made with the high degree of awareness of their probable falsity demanded by New York Times may be the subject of either civil or criminal sanctions.
For speech concerning public affairs is
[379 U.S. 64, 75] more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.
Calculated falsehood however is not protected
The use of calculated falsehood, however, would put a different cast on the constitutional question. Although honest utterance, even if inaccurate, may further the fruitful exercise of the right of free speech, it does not follow that the lie, knowingly and deliberately published about a public official, should enjoy a like immunity. At the time the First Amendment was adopted, as today, there were those unscrupulous enough and skillful enough to use the deliberate or reckless falsehood as an effective political tool to unseat the public servant or even topple an administration. That speech is used as a tool for political ends does not automatically bring it under the protective mantle of the Constitution.
The New York Times rule is not rendered inapplicable merely because an official's private reputation, as well as his public reputation, is harmed.
The public-official rule protects the paramount public interest in a free flow of information to the people concerning public officials, their servants. To this end, anything which might touch on an official's fitness for office is relevant. Few personal attributes are more germane to fitness for office than dishonesty, malfeasance, or improper motivation, even though these characteristics may also affect the official's private character.
Applying the principles of the New York Times case, we hold that the Louisiana statute, 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.

The New York times Rule prohibits punishment for truthful criticism
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,"

No comments: