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Section 1141 of the Penal Law

A New York Criminal Lawyer said that, appellants have been convicted under section 484-h of the Penal Law, Consol.Laws, c. 40 of selling to a minor under 18 years of age a copy of a book entitled ‘Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’. Another case, decided at the same time, involves whether this book is obscene under section 1141 of the Penal Law. That question is not before the court upon this appeal. Both counsel for the appellant and the Assistant District Attorney concede that the conviction of these defendants does not depend upon any finding or conclusion that this book is obscene. The determination that the book is not obscene therefore does not exonerate these defendants from the present charge. Even if the book is not obscene within the meaning of the Constitution, the narrative is mainly concerned with accounts of extra-marital sexual relationships.

A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said that, the conviction of defendants is under that portion of section 484-h of the Penal Law which purports to prohibit the sale to a minor under 18 years of age of ‘any book the cover or content of which exploits, is devoted to, or is principally made up of descriptions of illicit sex crime or sexual immorality’. The constitutional attack on this statutory provision is based on the grounds that it abridges freedom of speech and of the press in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment by denying due process of law in that the language is too vague for a criminal statute.

The issue in this case is whether the court erred in convicting the appellants under under section 484-h of the Penal Law, Consol.Laws, c. 40 of selling to a minor under 18 years of age a copy of a book entitled ‘Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’.

Former subdivision 2 of section 1141 of the Penal Law. The statute there held to be void prohibited the sale of books and other printed matter ‘principally made up of criminal news, police reports, or accounts of criminal deeds, or pictures, and stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust, or crime’. Our court had construed this statute as limited to the publication of collections of criminal deeds of bloodshed or lust ‘so massed as to become vehicles for inciting violent and depraved crimes against the person’. The United States Supreme Court said: ‘The statute as construed by the Court of Appeals does not limit punishment to the indecent and obscene, as formerly understood. When stories of deeds of bloodshed, such as many in the accused magazines, are massed so as to incite to violent sex crimes, the statute is violated. It does not seem to us that an honest distributor of publications could know when he might be held to have ignored such a prohibition. Collection of tales of war horrors, otherwise unexceptionable, might well be found to be ‘massed’ so as to become ‘vehicles for inciting violent and depraved crimes.’ Where a statute is so vague as to make criminal an innocent act, a conviction under it cannot be sustained. If a gun is involved, it’s worse.

There must be ascertainable standards of guilt. Men of common intelligence cannot be required to guess at the meaning of the enactment.’ The Supreme Court also held in the Winters case that the statute in question unconstitutionally limited freedom of expression protected by the principles of the First Amendment.

This court is now called upon to cope with one of the more important of these questions. As was noted in the principal opinion of the Criminal Court of the City of New York, there would have been no occasion for enacting section 484-h of the Penal Law unless it forbade more than was already prohibited by section 1141. ‘Section 484-h’, said the Criminal Court, ‘prohibits the sale to minors of books which exploit, are devoted to, or deal principally in descriptions of illicit sex or sexual immorality. There is no such prohibition contained in section 1141.

To Be Cont….

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