Lambert v. California
355 U.S. 225 (1957)

  • Lambert was convicted of forgery, which made her a felon.
  • Lambert later moved to Los Angeles, unaware there was a city ordinance (§§52.38(a), 52.39, 52.43(b)) that convicted felons must register if they stay in the city.
  • When the police learned Lambert was in town, they arrested her.
  • The Trial Court convicted Lambert of violating the city ordinance and fined $250. She appealed.
    • Lambert argued that it was a violation of due process to convict her of a crime she didn’t know she was committing.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction. Lambert appealed.
  • The California Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Lambert appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that that knowledge or probability of knowledge of a statute is required to convict someone of a notice offense.
      • “Where a person did not know of the duty to register and where there was no proof of the probability of such knowledge, he may not be convicted consistently with due process.”
    • The Court differentiated an active act with a passive act. In this case, Lambert didn’t actually do anything. She failed to meet a requirement that she was unaware of. The court felt that was different than doing something that they didn’t know was illegal.
  • See Model Penal Code §2.04.