Washington Law Review


In the fall of 1970, plaintiff Richard Steffel participated in the distribution of anti-war leaflets at a shopping center in De Kalb, Georgia. Under threat of arrest from police officers who had been summoned by the shopping center management, he and his companions dispersed. Two days later, however, Steffel and Sandra Lee Becker, another member of the group, returned to the center and resumed handbilling. Police again threatened them with arrest. Although Steffel departed, his companion Becker remained. The police arrested her for criminal trespass. Steffel subsequently invoked the Civil Rights Act and sought a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in federal court arguing that because he had desired to return to the shopping center to distribute handbills, but had not done so because he feared arrest, the Georgia criminal trespass statute violated his constitutional rights under the first and fourteenth amendments. The district court denied relief; the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed. Held: Where no state criminal proceeding is pending at the time a federal complaint is filed, the plaintiff is entitled to a declaratory judgment if he can show that there is a genuine threat of prosecution under a state statute allegedly unconstitutional either on its face or as applied. Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452 (1974).

First Page