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First Amendment Library:
Howard L. Zwickel


In 1977, New York passed legislation commonly known as the "Son of Sam" law, which required any entity contracting with an accused or convicted criminal for the production of a work describing the crime to turn over to the state's Crime Victims Board any income earned under that contract. The Board then made payments from that fund for legal and literary representation, compensation to victims, and payments to other creditors. In 1986, the Board became aware of a contract between publisher Simon & Schuster and organized crime figure Henry Hill for a book entitled Wiseguy. After the Board sought to enforce the Son of Sam law against Simon & Schuster, the publisher brought suit seeking a ruling that the legislation violated the First Amendment. The trial court and Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the statute. A statute is presumed to violate the First Amendment if it imposes a financial burden on speakers because of the content of their speech. Leathers v. Medlock, 499 U.S. 439 (1991). Such a statute can be upheld only if it is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Arkansas Writers' Project, Inc. v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221 (1987).