SIGNIFICANCE: FREEDMAN V. MARYLAND

Case NameFreedman v. Maryland 
Citation: 380 U.S. 51 (1965) 
TopicsObscenity

The defendant, Ronald Freedman, appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States from a judgment of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, which affirmed his conviction for exhibiting a motion picture at his theatre without first submitting the picture to the State Board of Censors as required by a Maryland Statute (Md. Code Ann. art. 66A, § 2 (1957)). On appeal to the Supreme Court, Freedman challenged the constitutionality of the Maryland motion picture censorship statute.

The Supreme Court held in favor of Freedman, concluding that the procedural scheme of the Maryland statue was unconstitutional. The Court established that a State may in fact require prior submission of a film to a board of censors, but may only do so under procedural safeguards designed to obviate the dangers of a censorship system. The Court held that a censorship statute is constitutional only if:

  • First, any prior restraint to judicial review can be imposed only briefly in order to preserve the status quo;
  • Second, to continue to restrict the exhibition of the picture, the censor must bear the burden of instituting judicial proceedings and proving that the material is obscene; and,
  • Finally, a prompt judicial determination of obscenity or non-obscenity by the court must be assured.

Therefore, while the State may require advance submission of all films, the requirement must be administered in accordance with these three criteria.

This case reveals the Court’s willingness to uphold modified censorship statutes despite the strong presumptions against prior restraints.

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.