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WARD V. ILLINOIS, 431 U. S. 767 (1977)

U.S. Supreme Court

Ward v. Illinois, 431 U.S. 767 (1977)

Ward v. Illinois

No. 76-415

Argued April 27, 1977

Decided June 9, 1977

431 U.S. 767


Prior to the decision in Miller v. California, 413 U. S. 15, appellant was convicted of selling obscene sado-masochistic materials in violation of the Illinois obscenity statute forbidding the sale of obscene matter and providing that

"[a] thing is obscene if, considered as a whole, its predominant appeal is to prurient interest, that is, a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex or excretion, and if it goes substantially beyond customary limits of candor in description or representation of such matters."

The conviction was affirmed after Miller, the Illinois Supreme Court rejecting appellant's challenge to the constitutionality of the statute for failure to conform to Miller standards, as well as his claim that the publications in question were not obscene.


1. The Illinois statute is not unconstitutionally vague as failing to give appellant notice that materials dealing with the kind of sexual conduct involved here could not be legally sold in the State, where (whether or not the State has complied with Miller's requirement that the sexual conduct that may not be depicted must be specifically defined by applicable state law as written or authoritatively construed) appellant had ample guidance from a previous decision of the Illinois Supreme Court making it clear that his conduct did not conform to Illinois law. Pp. 431 U. S. 771-773.

2. Sado-masochistic materials are the kind of materials that may be proscribed by state law, Mishkin v. New York, 383 U. S. 502, even though they were not expressly included within the examples of the kinds of sexually explicit representations that Miller used to explicate the aspect of its obscenity definition dealing with patently offensive depictions of specifically defined sexual conduct. P. 431 U. S. 773.

3. The materials in question were properly found by the courts below to be obscene under the Illinois statute, which conforms to the Miller standards, except that it retains the stricter "redeeming social value" obscenity criterion announced in Memoirs v. Massachusetts, 383 U. S. 413. P. 431 U. S. 773.

4. The Illinois statute is not unconstitutionally overbroad for failure to state specifically the kinds of sexual conduct the description or representation of which the State intends to proscribe, where it appears that in prior decisions the Illinois Supreme Court, although not expressly

Page 431 U. S. 768

describing the kinds of sexual conduct intended to be referred to under the Miller guideline requiring inquiry "whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law," expressly incorporated such guideline as part of the law, and thereby intended as well to adopt the Miller explanatory examples, which gave substantive meaning to such guideline by indicating the kinds of material within its reach. Pp. 431 U. S. 773-776.

63 Ill.2d 437, 349 N.E.2d 47, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 777. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 431 U. S. 777.

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