Group annotations on this page
Case Name: Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576 (1969) Argued:
Oct. 21, 1968
April 21, 1969
After learning that civil rights leader James Meredith had been shot, the accused took an American flag to a New York street corner and set the flag on fire. An audience formed, including a police officer, and the accused proceeded to make disparaging remarks about the flag. The accused was convicted of violating a New York statute making it misdemeanor "to publicly mutilate, deface, defile, defy, trample upon, or cast contempt upon an American flag whether by words or act." The conviction was affirmed by the appeals court.
Holding that the case was not moot, despite the expiration of the time period during which the accused's suspended sentence could have been replaced by an actual prison sentence, the Court proceeded to address whether or not the accused could constitutionally be punished for his words.
Legal Basis for Decision:
The Court concluded that the accused had a constitutional right to publicly express his feelings and opinions about the American flag, even if defiant or contemptuous. The verdict against Street was a general verdict, however, that the Court determined could have been based on his conduct, his words or both. Because of this, the Court held that even if the record "precludes the inference that Mr. Street's conviction might have been solely based on his words, we are still bound to reverse if the conviction could have been based both upon his words and his act." Such a ruling was dictated, the Court reasoned, to prevent the punishment of constitutionally protected speech.
taylorray on 2010-03-10precedent