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Defamation

We hold today that the Constitution delimits a State’s power to award damages for libel in actions brought by public officials against critics of their official conduct. Since this is such an action, the rule requiring proof of actual malice is applicable. While Alabama law apparently requires proof of actual malice for an award of punitive damages, where general damages are concerned malice is ‘presumed.’ Such a presumption is inconsistent with the federal rule. ‘The power to create presumptions is not a means of escape from constitutional restrictions,’ ‘(t)he showing of malice required for the forfeiture of the privilege is not presumed but is a matter for proof by the plaintiff * * *.’ [Cc] Since the trial judge did not instruct the jury to differentiate between general and punitive damages, it may be that the verdict was wholly an award of one or the other. But it is impossible to know, in view of the general verdict returned. Because of this uncertainty, the judgment must be reversed and the case remanded. [Cc]

Since respondent may seek a new trial, we deem that considerations of effective judicial administration require us to review the evidence in the present record to determine*285 whether it could constitutionally support a judgment for respondent. This Court’s duty is not limited to the elaboration of constitutional principles; we must also in proper cases review the evidence to make certain that those principles have been constitutionally applied. This is such a case, particularly since the question is one of alleged trespass across‘ the line between speech unconditionally guaranteed and speech which may legitimately be regulated.’ [Cc] In cases where that line must be drawn, the rule is that we ‘examine for ourselves the statements in issue and the circumstances under which they were made to see * * * whether they are of a character which the principles of the First Amendment, as adopted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, protect. [Cc] We must ‘make an independent examination of the whole record,’[Cc] so as to assure ourselves that the judgment does not constitute a forbidden intrusion on the field of free expression.

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