Stanley v. Georgia
394 U.S. 557 (1969)

  • The police were searching Stanley’s house because they thought he might be a bookie. They didn’t find any evidence of bookmaking, but they did find a few dirty movies Stanley had in his bedroom.
  • Stanley was arrested and charged with possessing obscene materials.
    • That was a crime under Georgia law.
  • The Trial Court convicted Stanley of possession of obscene materials. He appealed.
    • Stanley argued that criminalizing possession of obscene materials is an unconstitutional violation of his 1st Amendment right to free speech.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction and found that the Georgia law was a violation of the 1st Amendment.
    • The US Supreme Court acknowledged that there is a governmental interest in fighting obscenity.
    • However, the Court found that there is a fundamental right to be free, except for very limited circumstances, from unwanted governmental intrusion into one’s privacy.
      • “If the 1st Amendment means anything, it means that a State has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch. Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.”
  • This ruling has been narrowed over the years. While people have a right to possess obscene materials, they do not have the right to receive them in the mail (see United States v. Reidel (402 U.S. 351 (1971)), and you never have a right to possess child pornography (see Osborne v. Ohio (495 U.S. 103 (1990)).

In the case of Osborne v. Ohio (495 U.S. 103 (1990)), Osborne was convicted under an Ohio law for possession of child pornography. He appealed, claiming that the 1st Amendment gave him the right to possess whatever he wanted in the privacy of his own home. The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.

  • The US Supreme Court distinguished this case from their previous ruling in Stanley v. Georgia (394 U.S. 557 (1969)), by saying that Stanley was in possession of obscene materials, but those were not pictures of children.
  • The difference is that the State does not have a compelling government interest in regulating the thoughts and fantasies of people like Stanley and Osborne, but they do have a compelling government interest in protecting children from exploitation by destroying the market for materials made by exploiting children.