Ashton v. Kentucky - 384 U.S. 195 (1966)
U.S. Supreme Court
Ashton v. Kentucky, 384 U.S. 195 (1966)
Ashton v. Kentucky
Argued April 28, 1966
Decided May 16, 1966
384 U.S. 195
Petitioner was indicted and convicted for violating the Kentucky common law crime of criminal libel. The indictment charged "the offense of criminal libel" committed "by publishing a false and malicious publication which tends to degrade or injure" three named persons. The trial court charged that
"criminal libel is defined as any writing calculated to create disturbances of the peace, corrupt the public morals, or lead to any act which, when done, is indictable."
The court also charged that malice and falsity were essential elements of the offense. The Kentucky Court of Appeals, in affirming the conviction, ruled that breach of the peace is not a constitutional basis for imposing criminal liability, and held that common law criminal libel is "the publication of a defamatory statement about another which is false, with malice."
1. Where an accused is convicted under a broad construction of a law which would make it unconstitutional, the conviction cannot be sustained on appeal by a limiting construction which eliminates the unconstitutional features of the law. Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U. S. 87. P. 384 U. S. 198.
2. Because the offense was defined at trial as the publication of a writing calculated to disturb the peace, petitioner was judged by an unconstitutionally vague standard which required calculations as the the reaction of the audience to which the publication was addressed.
3. Although vague laws in any setting are impermissible, laws which touch on First Amendment rights must be carefully and narrowly drawn. Pp. 384 U. S. 200-201.
406 S.W.2d 562 reversed.