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First Amendment Library:
Roger Arnebergh


Appellant, the proprietor of a bookstore, was convicted in a California Municipal Court under a Los Angeles City ordinance which makes it unlawful "for any person to have in his possession any obscene or indecent writing. [or] book . . . [i]n any place of business where . . . books . . . are sold or kept for sale."[1] The offense was defined by the Municipal Court, and by the Appellate *149 Department of the Superior Court,[2] which affirmed the Municipal Court judgment imposing a jail sentence on appellant, as consisting solely of the possession, in the appellant's bookstore, of a certain book found upon judicial investigation to be obscene. The definition included no element of scienter—knowledge by appellant of the contents of the book—and thus the ordinance was construed as imposing a "strict" or "absolute" criminal liability.[3] The appellant made timely objection below that if the ordinance were so construed it would be in conflict with the Constitution of the United States. This contention, together with other contentions based on the Constitution,[4] was rejected, and the case comes here on appeal. 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2); 358 U. S. 926.