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LEE ART THEATRE v. VIRGINIA

decided: June 17, 1968.

LEE ART THEATRE, INC
v.
VIRGINIA



ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA.

Author: Per Curiam

[ 392 U.S. Page 636]

 The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. Petitioner, operator of a motion picture theatre in Richmond, Virginia, was convicted in the Hustings Court of Richmond of possessing and exhibiting lewd and obscene motion pictures in violation of Title 18.1-228 of the Code of Virginia. The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia refused a writ of error.

The films in question were admitted in evidence over objection that they had been unconstitutionally seized. The seizure was under the authority of a warrant issued by a justice of the peace on the basis of an affidavit of a police officer which stated only the titles of the motion pictures and that the officer had determined from personal observation of them and of the billboard in front of the theatre that the films were obscene.

[ 392 U.S. Page 637]

     The admission of the films in evidence requires reversal of petitioner's conviction. A seizure of allegedly obscene books on the authority of a warrant "issued on the strength of the conclusory assertions of a single police officer, without any scrutiny by the judge of any materials considered . . . obscene," was held to be an unconstitutional seizure in Marcus v. Search Warrant, 367 U.S. 717, 731-732. It is true that a judge may read a copy of a book in courtroom or chambers but not as easily arrange to see a motion picture there. However, we need not decide in this case whether the justice of the peace should have viewed the motion picture before issuing the warrant. The procedure under which the warrant issued solely upon the conclusory assertions of the police officer without any inquiry by the justice of the peace into the factual basis for the officer's conclusions was not a procedure "designed to focus searchingly on the question of obscenity," id., at 732, and therefore fell short of constitutional requirements demanding necessary sensitivity to freedom of expression. See Freedman v. Maryland, 380 U.S. 51, 58-59.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK, MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, and MR. JUSTICE STEWART base their concurrence in the judgment of reversal upon Redrup v. New York, 386 U.S. 767.

Disposition

Certiorari granted; judgment reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, dissenting.

A police officer filed a sworn affidavit that he had personally witnessed the commission of a crime, to wit, the possession and exhibition of obscene motion pictures. He was ...


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