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VACHON v. NEW HAMPSHIRE
APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Decided January 14, 1974
On the basis of evidence that a 14-year-old girl bought a button inscribed "Copulation Not Masturbation" at a store operated by him, appellant was convicted of "wilfully" contributing to the delinquency of a minor in violation of a New Hampshire statute. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. Held: An independent examination of the trial record pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 40 (1) (d) (2) discloses that evidence is completely lacking that appellant personally sold the girl the button or that he was aware of the sale or present in the store at the time, a fatal void in the State's case that was not filled by appellant's concession at trial that he "controlled the premises" at the time. A conviction based on a record completely lacking any relevant evidence as to a crucial element of the offense charged violates due process.
113 N. H. 239, 306 A. 2d 781, reversed and remanded.
A 14-year-old girl bought a button inscribed "Copulation Not Masturbation" at the Head Shop in Manchester, New Hampshire. In consequence, appellant, operator of the shop, was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $100 after conviction upon a charge of "wilfully" contributing to the delinquency of a minor in violation of New Hampshire's Rev. Stat. Ann. 169:32 (Supp. 1972). 1 In affirming the conviction, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that the "wilfully" component of the offense required that the State prove that the accused acted "`voluntarily and intentionally and not [414 U.S. 478, 479] because of mistake or accident or other innocent reason.'" 113 N. H. 239, 242, 306 A. 2d 781, 784 (1973). Thus, the State was required to produce evidence that appellant, knowing the girl to be a minor, 2 personally sold her the button, or personally caused another to sell it to her. Appellant unsuccessfully sought dismissal of the charge at the close of the State's case on the ground that the State had produced no evidence to meet this requirement, and unsuccessfully urged the same ground as a reason for reversal in the State Supreme Court. We have reviewed the transcript of the trial on this issue, pursuant to Rule 40 (1) (d) (2) of the Rules of this Court. 3
Our independent examination of the trial record discloses that evidence is completely lacking that appellant personally sold the girl the button or even that he was aware of the sale or present in the store at the time. The girl was the State's only witness to the sale. She testified that she and a girl friend entered the store and looked around until they saw "a velvet display card on a counter" from which they "picked out [the] pin." She went to some person in the store with the button "cupped in [her] hand" and paid that person 25 cents for the button. She did not say that appellant was that person, [414 U.S. 478, 480] or even that she saw him in the store. Rather, she testified that she could not identify who the person was. We therefore agree with Justice Grimes, dissenting, that "there is no evidence whatever that the defendant sold the button, that he knew it had been sold to a minor, that he authorized such sales to minors or that he was even in the store at the time of the sale." 113 N. H., at 244, 306 A. 2d, at 785. This fatal void in the State's case was not filled by appellant's concession at trial that he "controlled the premises on July 26." That concession was evidence at most that he operated the shop; it was in no way probative of the crucial element of the crime that he personally sold the minor the button or personally caused it to be sold to her.
In these circumstances, the conviction must be reversed. "It is beyond question, of course, that a conviction based on a record lacking any relevant evidence as to a crucial element of the offense charged . . . violate[s] due process." Harris v. United States, 404 U.S. 1232, 1233 (1971). (DOUGLAS, J., in chambers); Thompson v. Louisville, 362 U.S. 199 (1960); Johnson v. Florida, 391 U.S. 596 (1968); see also Adderley v. Florida, 385 U.S. 39, 44 (1966).
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the New Hampshire Supreme Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
[ Footnote 2 ] The complaint charged that appellant "did wilfully contribute to the delinquency of a minor by selling or causing to be sold a button with obscene material with slogan on same, to wit, `Copulation Not Masturbation' to . . . a minor child of the age of 14 years, knowing the said child was a minor . . . ."
[ Footnote 3 ] The Rule provides, in pertinent part, that: "Questions not presented according to [the requirements of this rule] will be disregarded, save as the court, at its option, may notice a plain error not presented." This discretion has been long acknowledged, see Columbia Heights Realty Co. v. Rudolph, 217 U.S. 547 (1910), recently affirmed in Blonder-Tongue Laboratories, Inc. v. University of Illinois Foundation, 402 U.S. 313, 320 n. 6 (1971), and extends to review of the trial court record, see Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1 (1941). See also Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949).
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE WHITE join, dissenting.
Appellant Denis M. Vachon operates the Head Shop in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he sells various beads, dresses, posters, and the like. In July 1969, a 14-year-old girl, accompanied by her girl friend, went to the shop seeking to purchase a button or pin like the [414 U.S. 478, 481] one purchased by her friend the previous week. She found the button, inscribed "Copulation Not Masturbation," and purchased it from a salesperson in the store. It was conceded in the New Hampshire courts that appellant was in control of the premises where the sale was made. At a jury-waived trial, appellant was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a statutory offense proscribed in these words:
The Court decides that appellant's conviction under this statute violates rights secured to him by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, concluding on the basis of its "independent examination of the trial record" that "evidence is completely lacking that appellant personally sold the girl the button or even that he was aware of the sale or present in the store at the time."
In one sense there can be no doubt that the Court's conclusion is based upon an "independent examination of the trial record," since the claim sustained here was neither made in constitutional form to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire, nor even presented by appellant in his jurisdictional statement in this Court. * [414 U.S. 478, 482]
A litigant seeking to preserve a constitutional claim for review in this Court must not only make clear to the lower courts the nature of his claim, but he must also make it clear that the claim is constitutionally grounded. Bailey v. Anderson, 326 U.S. 203 (1945). The closest that appellant came in his brief on appeal to the Supreme Court of New Hampshire to discussing the issue on which this Court's opinion turns is in the sixth section (at 17-18), which is headed: "The State's failure to introduce any evidence of scienter should have resulted in dismissal of the charge following the presentation of the State's case." Appellant in that section makes the customary appellate arguments of insufficiency of the evidence and does not so much as mention either the United States Constitution or a single case decided by this Court. The Supreme Court of New Hampshire treated these arguments as raising a classic state law claim of insufficient evidence of scienter; nothing in that court's opinion remotely suggests that it was treating the claim as having a basis other than in state law.
The Court purports to decide the scienter question on the basis of Rule 40 (1) (d) (2) of the Rules of this Court, which provides:
Whatever the import of Rule 40 (1) (d) (2) in cases arising in the federal courts, it surely does not give this Court the power to simply ignore the limitations placed by 28 U.S.C. 1257 on our jurisdiction to review final judgments of the highest court of a State. That jurisdiction permits review in this Court by appeal where a state statute has been upheld against a federal constitutional challenge, or by writ of certiorari where a federal constitutional challenge is "specifically set up or claimed" in state court. Our prior cases establish that we will "not decide federal constitutional issues raised here for the first time on review of state court decisions." Cardinale v. Louisiana, 394 U.S. 437, 438 (1969). See Crowell v. Randell, 10 Pet. 368 (1836). Since the Supreme Court of New Hampshire was not presented with a federal constitutional challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, resolution of this question by the Court is inconsistent with the congressional limitation on our [414 U.S. 478, 484] jurisdiction to review the final judgment of the highest court of a State.
Even if appellant's sufficiency-of-the-evidence contention in the Supreme Court of New Hampshire could be said to have been presented as a federal constitutional claim based on Thompson v. Louisville, 362 U.S. 199 (1960), I would nonetheless be unable to join in the Court's disposition of it. In Thompson, the only state court proceedings reaching the merits of the case were in the Louisville Police Court from which there was no right of appeal to any higher state court, and there was therefore no state court opinion written which construed the statute under which Thompson was convicted. This Court therefore had no choice but to engage in its own construction of the statute and upon doing so it concluded that the record was "entirely lacking in evidence to support any of the charges." Id., at 204. Thompson was obviously an extraordinary case, and up until now has been saved for extraordinary situations; it has not heretofore been broadened so as to make lack of evidentiary support for only one of several elements of an offense a constitutional infirmity in a state conviction.
Here, however, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire construed the state statute defining contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and held that the evidence adduced at the trial was sufficient to support a finding on each element of that offense. While the Supreme Court of New Hampshire did say, as the Court indicates, that the State was required to prove that the accused acted "`voluntarily and intentionally and not because of mistake or accident or other innocent reason,'" 113 N. H., at 242, 306 A. 2d, at 784, it said this in a context of several paragraphs of treatment of the elements of the offense. Just as those reading and relying upon our opinions would [414 U.S. 478, 485] be ill-advised to seize one phrase out of context, I think we are ill-advised to so treat the opinion of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. That court had several observations to make about the statutory offense which bear on the issue of "wilfulness" upon which this Court focuses:
This may seem to us a somewhat broad construction of the language "wilfully" or "knowingly," though our own cases make it clear that we are dealing with words which may be given a variety of meanings by their context:
[ Footnote * ] Appellant makes two contentions in his jurisdictional statement: First, that the New Hampshire statutes defining contributing to the delinquency of a minor and sale and delivery of obscene material (N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. 571-A:1, 571-A:2 (Supp. 1972)) have been [414 U.S. 478, 482] applied to the sale of the button by appellant in a way that infringes upon his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights; and, second, that the New Hampshire statute defining contributing to the delinquency of a minor is unconstitutionally vague. There is simply nothing else presented by the jurisdictional statement. [414 U.S. 478, 488]