Stanley v. Georgia,
394 U.S. 557 (1969)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969)

Stanley v. Georgia

No. 293

Argued January 14-15, 1969

Decided April 7, 1969

394 U.S. 557


Under authority of a warrant to search appellant's home for evidence of his alleged bookmaking activities, officers found some films in his bedroom. The films were projected and deemed to be obscene. Appellant was arrested for their possession. He was thereafter indicted, tried, and convicted for "knowingly hav[ing] possession of . . . obscene matter" in violation of a Georgia law. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed, holding it

"not essential to an indictment charging one with possession of obscene matter that it be alleged that such possession was 'with intent to sell, expose or circulate the same.'"

Appellant contends that the Georgia obscenity statute is unconstitutional insofar as it punishes mere private possession of obscene matter. Georgia, relying on Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476, argues the statute's validity on the ground that "obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected speech or press." Id. at 354 U. S. 485.

Held: The First Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth prohibits making mere private possession of obscene material a crime. Pp. 394 U. S. 560-568.

(a) Neither Roth, supra, nor subsequent decisions of the Court were made in the context of a statute punishing mere private possession of obscene material, but involved governmental power to prohibit or regulate certain public actions respecting obscene matter. Pp. 394 U. S. 560-564.

(b) The Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas, regardless of their social worth, and to be generally free from governmental intrusions into one's privacy and control of one's thoughts. Pp. 394 U. S. 564-566.

(c) The State may not prohibit mere possession of obscene matter on the ground that it may lead to antisocial conduct, Roth, supra, distinguished, or proscribe such possession on the ground that it is a necessary incident to a statutory scheme prohibiting distribution, see Smith v. California, 361 U. S. 147. Pp. 394 U. S. 566-568.

224 Ga. 259, 161 S.E.2d 309, reversed and remanded.

Page 394 U. S. 558

Primary Holding

The First Amendment does not allow a state to criminalize the private possession of obscene matter.


Police suspected Stanley of illegal bookmaking. They obtained a search warrant for his home, where they found three reels of eight-millimeter films that were allegedly obscene. Stanley was charged with knowing possession of obscene matter, which was prohibited by state law.



  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • John Marshall Harlan II
  • Abe Fortas
  • William Orville Douglas

First Amendment rights are fundamental to American society, even if the information that is received has no social value. Unwanted government intrusions into an individual's privacy violate fundamental rights, except in narrow circumstances. People should have unlimited freedom to read or view whatever material they want in the privacy of their own homes.


  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White


  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)

Case Commentary

The government does not have the right to control what individuals enjoy and use to entertain themselves in their private spaces.

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