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Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of the New York State Crime Victims Board

    Citation. 502 U.S. 105, 112 S. Ct. 501, 116 L. Ed. 2d 476, 1991 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The state of New York passed a bill prohibiting criminals to profit from selling their stories. Instead, any profits from books, movies, etc. are to be deposited in an escrow account for the victims and/or their families.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The government must show a compelling interest for content-based regulation and the regulation must be narrowly drawn to achieve the interest in order for it to be constitutional.

    Facts. After the Son of Sam case in New York City, legislators noted the great potential afforded to a criminal to sell his story to the media for profit. To counter the “abhorrent” result of paying a criminal handsomely for his acts, while providing the victim with nothing, the state legislature passed the “Son of Sam” law. This law requires that all profits from the sale of a criminal story be given to the Respondent, Members of the New York State Crime Victims Board (Respondent), for deposit in an escrow account. The victims of the criminal would have five years to file suit and access the account. After this five year period, the funds would be returned to the custody of the criminal or his representatives.

    Issue. Is the Son of Sam law an unconstitutional restraint of free speech?

    Held. Yes. New York has singled out speech on a particular subject for financial burden that it places on no other type of speech. The state’s interest in compensating victims is compelling, but the law is not narrowly tailored to achieve that objective.

    Discussion. Although the state has a compelling interest in the compensation of victims, the law is so broad that it would include all crimes and criminals. It gives no regard for whether there were actually victims or whether the author was ever convicted of the crime. Instead this law would confiscate the profits from all non-fictional crime books.


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