ROSEN V. UNITED STATES, 161 U. S. 29 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Rosen v. United States, 161 U.S. 29 (1896)

Rosen v. United States

No. 424

Argued October 29, 1895

Decided January 27, 1896

161 U.S. 29


The constitutional right of a defendant to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him entitles him to insist, at the outset, by demurrer or by motion to quash, and, after verdict, by motion in arrest of judgment, that the indictment shall apprise him of the crime charged with such reasonable certainty that he can make his defence and protect himself after judgment against another prosecution for the same offence, and this right is not infringed by the omission from the indictment of indecent and obscene matter, alleged as not proper to be spread upon the records of the court, provided the crime charged, however general the language used, is yet so described as reasonably to inform the accused of the nature of the charge sought to be established against him, and in such case the accused may apply to the court before the trial is entered upon for a bill of particulars, showing what parts of the paper would be relied on by the prosecution as being obscene, lewd, and lascivious, which motion will be granted or refused, as the court, in the exercise of a sound legal discretion, may find necessary to the ends of justice.

The inquiry, in proceedings under Rev. Stat. § 3893, is whether the paper charged to have been obscene, lewd, and lascivious was in fact of that character, and if it was of that character and was deposited in the mail by one who knew or had notice at the time of its contents, the offense is complete, although the defendant himself did not regard the paper as one that the statute forbade to be carried in the mails.

Everyone who uses the mails of the United States for carrying papers or publications must take notice of what, in this enlightened age, is meant

Page 161 U. S. 30

by decency, purity, and chastity in social life, and what must be deemed obscene, lewd, and lascivious.

When the evidence before the jury, if clear and uncontradicted upon any issue made by the parties, presents a question of law, the court can, without usurping the functions of the jury, instruct them as to the principles applicable to the case made by such evidence.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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