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Poe v. Ullman

    Citation. 367 U.S. 497, 81 S. Ct. 1752, 6 L. Ed. 2d 989, 1961 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellants, several couples and their physician (Appellants), brought suit, seeking the overturn of a Connecticut statute prohibiting the use of contraceptive devices and the giving of medical advice on the use of such devices.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A penal statute is not ripe for constitutional challenge unless it is enforced by the state enacting the statute.


    Facts. The Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors construed a state penal statute as prohibiting the use of contraceptive devices and the giving of medical advice on their use. Appellants included a couple who had several pregnancies result with severely abnormal progeny which died shortly after birth, a couple whose wife had experienced a severely traumatic pregnancy and their physician, who believes the safest course of treatment for the couples includes using contraceptive devices.

    Issue. Is the petitioners’ claim ripe for judicial review?

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed. Connecticut has never attempted to fully prosecute any case under the statute. Because of this, not only have the Appellants not suffered injury in fact from the statute, but there is no evidence that they would be prosecuted for acting in violation of the statute.

    Dissent. Justice William Douglas (J. Douglas) argues that the mere threat of prosecution is injury in fact, that it is “not the choice worthy of a civilized society” to require individuals to risk penalty for their behavior to have their constitutional rights determined.

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    Discussion. Although ripeness is the central issue in Poe, the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) does not articulate any clear guidelines to evaluate ripeness. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court seems to articulate that a penal statute that has not been enforced is not ripe for judicial review.

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