St. Amant v. Thompson
390 U.S. 727 (1968)

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U.S. Supreme Court

St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727 (1968)

St. Amant v. Thompson

No. 517

Argued April 4, 1968

Decided April 29, 1968

390 U.S. 727


Petitioner made a televised political speech in the course of which he read questions which he had put to a union member, Albin, and Albin's answers; the answers falsely charged respondent, a public official, with criminal conduct. Respondent sued petitioner for defamation, and was awarded damages by the trial judge. The trial judge, having considered New York Times Co. v. Sullivan,376 U. S. 254 (1964), decided after the trial, denied a motion for a new trial. An intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment, having found that petitioner had not acted with actual malice within the meaning of the New York Times rule, i.e., with knowledge that petitioner's statements were false or with reckless disregard of whether they were false or not. The State Supreme Court reversed, finding that there had been sufficient evidence that petitioner had acted in "reckless disregard" in that petitioner had no personal knowledge of respondent's activities; relied solely on Albin's affidavit though there was no evidence as to Albin's veracity; failed to verify the information with others who might know the facts; did not consider whether the statements were defamatory, and mistakenly believed that he had no responsibility for the broadcast because he was merely quoting Albin.

Held: In order that it can be found that a defendant, within the meaning of New York Times, acted in "reckless disregard" of whether a defamatory statement which he made about a public official is false or not, there must be sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendant had serious doubts as to the truth of his publication. Pp. 390 U. S. 730-733.

(a) In a defamation action by a public official, reckless conduct is not measured by whether a reasonably prudent man would have published the statement or would have investigated before publishing. P. 390 U. S. 731.

(b) The people's stake in the conduct of public officials is so great that neither the defense of truth nor the standard of ordinary care would adequately implement First Amendment policies. Pp. 390 U. S. 731-732.

(c) A defendant's testimony that he acted in good faith is not conclusive as to that issue, since the factfinder, in the light of all

Page 390 U. S. 728

the surrounding circumstances. must determine whether the publication was indeed made in good faith. P. 390 U. S. 732.

(d) The evidence in this case is not sufficient to permit the conclusion that petitioner acted in reckless disregard of whether the statements about respondent were false or not. Pp. 390 U. S. 732-73. .

250 La. 405, 196 So.2d 255, reversed and remanded.

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