Hicks v. Miranda,
422 U.S. 332 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332 (1975)

Hicks v. Miranda

No. 74-156

Argued March 24, 1975

Decided June 24, 1975

422 U.S. 332


After the police, pursuant to four separate warrants, had seized four copies of an allegedly obscene film from appellees' theater, misdemeanor charges were filed in Municipal Court against two theater employees, and the California Superior Court ordered appellees to show cause why the film should not be declared obscene. Subsequently, the Superior Court declared the film obscene and ordered seized all copies that might be found at the theater. Rather than appealing from this order, appellees filed suit in Federal District Court against appellant police officers and prosecuting attorneys, seeking an injunction against enforcement of the California obscenity statute and for return of the seized copies of the film, and a judgment declaring the statute unconstitutional. A three-judge court was then convened to consider the constitutionality of the statute. Meanwhile, appellees were added as parties defendant in the Municipal Court criminal proceeding. Thereafter, the three-judge court declared the obscenity statute unconstitutional, ordered return to appellees of all seized copies of the film, and rejected appellants' claim that Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37, and Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U. S. 66, required dismissal of the case, holding that no criminal charges were pending against appellees in state court and that, in any event, the pattern of search warrants and seizures of the film showed bad faith and harassment on the authorities' part. The court then denied appellants' motions for rehearing and relief from the judgment, based, inter alia, on this Court's intervening dismissal "for want of a substantial federal question" of the appeal in Miller v. California, 418 U. S. 915 (Miller II), from the California Superior Court's judgment sustaining the constitutionality of the California obscenity statute; reaffirmed its Younger v. Harris ruling; and, after concluding that it was not bound by the dismissal of Miller II, supra, adhered to its judgment that the obscenity statute was unconstitutional, although it amended its

Page 422 U. S. 333

injunction so as to require appellants to seek return of three of the four copies of the film in the Municipal Court's possession.


1. This Court has jurisdiction over the appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1253, and the injunction, as well as the declaratory judgment, is properly before the Court. Pp. 422 U. S. 342-348.

(a) Although the constitutional issues presented in Miller II and declared insubstantial by this Court could not be considered substantial and decided otherwise by the District Court, Miller II did not require that the three-judge court be dissolved in the circumstances. Since appellees not only challenged the enforcement of the obscenity statute but also sought to enjoin enforcement of the search warrant statutes (necessarily on constitutional grounds) insofar as they might be applied to permit the multiple seizures of the film, and since Miller II had nothing to do with the issue of the validity of the multiple seizures, that issue remained in the case, and the three-judge court should have remained in session to consider it. Pp. 422 U. S. 343-346.

(b) The District Court's injunction, requiring appellants to seek return of three copies of the film in the Municipal Court's possession, plainly interfered with the pending criminal prosecution and with enforcement of the obscenity statute, and hence was an injunction reserved to a three-judge court under 28 U.S.C. § 2281. Pp. 422 U. S. 347-348.

2. The District Court erred in reaching the merits of the case despite appellants' insistence that it be dismissed under Younger v. Harris and Samuels v. Mackell. Pp. 422 U. S. 348-352.

(a) Where state criminal proceedings are begun against the federal plaintiffs after the federal complaint is filed but before any proceedings of substance on the merits have taken place in the federal court, the principles of Younger v. Harris should apply in full force. Here, appellees were charged in the state criminal proceedings prior to appellants' answering the federal case and prior to any proceedings before the three-judge court, and hence the federal complaint should have been dismissed on appellants' motion absent satisfactory proof of those extraordinary circumstances warranting one of the exceptions to the rule of Younger v. Harris and related cases. Pp. 422 U. S. 348-350.

(b) Absent at least some effort by the District Court to impeach the prosecuting officials' entitlement to rely on repeated judicial authorization for seizures of the film, official bad faith and

Page 422 U. S. 334

harassment were not made out, and the District Court erred in holding otherwise. Pp. 422 U. S. 350-352.

388 F.Supp. 350, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 422 U. S. 352. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 422 U. S. 353.

Primary Holding

The rules of Younger v. Harris apply when a state starts criminal proceedings against individuals who have filed a complaint in federal court, if no proceeding on the merits has been initiated.


The police seized four copies of the film "Deep Throat" from a theater in Orange County, California. Miranda was one of the owners, and two of his theater employees faced criminal charges in municipal court as a result of the seizure. The Superior Court ordered Miranda to show cause as to why the film should not be ruled obscene. He refused to participate in the hearing, challenging the court's jurisdiction and attempting to reserve all federal questions. The Superior Court then ruled the film obscene and seized the copies.

Miranda sought an injunction from the federal district court that would prevent California law enforcement from enforcing the state obscenity law and ordering the return of the film, as well as a declaratory judgment that the law was unconstitutional. The action in municipal court was amended to add Miranda and his associates as defendants, while the federal court weighed the constitutionality of the statute. The federal court eventually determined that the law was unconstitutional and ordered Hicks, the district attorney, to return the film to Miranda. It was not persuaded by Hicks' argument that Younger v. Harris (1971) required the case to be dismissed because criminal charges were pending in state court. The federal court noted that Miranda had not been charged at the time that he brought the case in federal court.



  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

State courts should be allowed to try cases under their laws without intrusion by federal courts, especially if the claims by the parties in the federal case may be fully litigated in state court. The plaintiff's employees already had been charged, and the film had been declared obscene, at the time that he brought the case in federal court, even though he personally had not been charged. This was sufficient to establish a substantial stake in the state proceedings, such that bringing the action in federal court represented an effort to interfere with them. The claim must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can clearly show that he could not have achieved relief in the state court.


  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • William Orville Douglas
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Thurgood Marshall

This rule restricts the power of the federal court to protect constitutional rights, since the state courts can terminate a federal court's involvement in a matter by filing criminal charges after the federal case has begun. Federalism principles do not permit this imbalance of power.


  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)

Case Commentary

It is often challenging to discern when the federal litigation is in its embryonic phase, compared to when a substantive proceeding on the merits has taken place. Filing a complaint is clearly not enough, but a final judgment on the merits is not required.

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