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Scales v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner Scales was the chairman of the North and South Carolina Districts of the Communist Party. He was convicted for violating the membership clause of the Smith Act. He was convicted as being an active member of the party with knowledge of the party’s illegal activities who had the intent of bringing about a violent overthrow of the United States.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Free speech may be restricted if it is aimed at building up a seditious group and maintaining it in readiness for action at an opportune time. This speech can be seen as preparatory to action and thus can be restricted as being dangerous to public welfare and safety of the public. But, in order to restrict free speech under the Smith Act it must be able to show that each person individually advocated specific illegal acts, rather than the group in general.

    Facts. Petitioner, the chairman of the North and South Carolina Districts of the Communist Party, was convicted of violating the membership clause of the Smith Act, which made it a crime to become a member of an organization advocating the overthrow of the government by force or violence. The trial court instructed that in order to convict, the jury must find that the Communist Party advocated the violent overthrow of the government, in the sense of present advocacy of action to accomplish that end as soon as circumstances were ripe; and that Petitioner was an active member of the party, and not merely a nominal, passive, inactive, or purely technical member with knowledge of the party’s illegal advocacy and a specific intent to bring about overthrow as speedily as circumstances would permit.

    Issue. Whether the jury could permissibly infer that such preaching, in whole or in part was aimed at building up a seditious group and maintaining it in readiness for action at a propitious time?

    Held. Yes. The jury, under instructions which fully satisfied the requirements of Yates, was entitled to infer from this systematic preaching that advocacy of action was engaged in. Yates imposed a strict standard of proof, and indicates the kind of evidence insufficient to show illegal advocacy under the standard. The evidence in this case sufficed to make a case for the jury on the issue of illegal party advocacy. Since the evidence amply showed that Petitioners were continuously preaching during the indictment period the inevitability of eventual forcible overthrow, the jury could permissibly infer that suck preaching was aimed at building up a seditious group and maintaining it in readiness for action at a propitious time. This is the kind of indoctrination preparatory to action that was condemned in Dennis.

    Dissent.
    Believes that Petitioner is being sent to jail for the express reason that he associated with people who have entertained unlawful ideas and said unlawful things, and that of course is a direct abridgement of his freedoms of speech and assembly.
    None of the activities of the Petitioner constitutes a crime, and since no illegal act is charged to the Petitioner, his mere membership is not enough to constitute a crime. He has, in fact, been indicted for a belief, the belief in Communist creed.
    Argues that the Internal Security Act gives legislative immunity from prosecution under the membership clause of the Smith Act.

    Discussion. This case leaves us somewhere between Gitlow and Yates. This case in fact is a companion case to Yates, and should be read as an extension thereof rather than a separate case. This case represents an easier case for upholding a conviction because of the individual’s personal involvement in the incendiary conduct. This case stands for the idea that there must be some sort of personal connection to the speech in order for conviction under the Smith Act. But, mere membership in a group that promotes a violent overthrow of the government to have this speech attributed to an individual. But, this case does not provide much insight alone, and should be read alongside Yates to give the reader a complete understanding of the holding.


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