Citation. 405 U.S. 518, 92 S. Ct. 1103, 31 L. Ed. 2d 408, 1972 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Appellee, Wilson (Appellee), was convicted of using opprobrious words and abusive language towards police officers.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A statute must be carefully drawn and construed to punish only unprotected speech and not be applied to protected expression.
The Appellee was convicted of using abusive language towards another when he made statements such as “You son of a bitch, I’ll choke you to death.” “If you put your hands on me again I’ll cut you to pieces.” At the time these comments were made the Appellee was being moved away from an army induction center where he was protesting the war.
Is the Georgia law overly broad and unconstitutional?
Yes. The definitions of the words used in the statute include non-fighting words as well as fighting words. Therefore, this statute is overly broad and unconstitutional as written and applied.
The statute is constitutional.
Justice Warren Burger (J. Burger): A statute should be held unconstitutional on its face not because of its previous application.
Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun): The statute is not overbroad and common sense tells us that the name calling engaged in by the Appellee is a form of “fighting words.”
The majority relies on the definitions of the words used as a common dictionary defines them. Because the words include those that are meant to disgrace the listener or that are simply harsh words, the statute is not narrowly construed.