August 12, 1970: Jim Morrison Goes on Trial in Miami

On August 12th, 1970, Jim Morrison went on trial for the obscenity charges stemming from the “Miami incident” on March 1, 1969. The trial was originally scheduled to start on Monday, August 10th, but Judge Murray Goodman said he had a trial that took precedence and adjourned the court until the 12th. Thereafter, Morrison’s trial would be held every other day.

Jim Morrison and his defense attorneys hoped the case could be a First Amendment matter of a performer being free to use profanities and nudity in a theatrical performance. Morrison did a couple of interviews on what he hoped the trial would be.

Unfortunately, Judge Goodman ruled that all First Amendment arguments weren’t relevant. When the defense wanted to bring in expert witnesses to discuss prevailing community standards, or to testify that works such as “Hair” or “Woodstock” were already playing in the Miami area, again Goodman ruled the defense could only present issues consistent with the charges against Morrison.

To outside spectators it was obvious, if not openly stated, that the outcome of the trial was already predetermined. It was an election year for Judge Goodman. Aside from the community standards testimony being disallowed, at one point the prosecution tried to slip in a misleading photo negative as evidence. When Morrison’s lawyers objected, Judge Goodman laughed and commented, “They made a nice try and it didn’t work,” which in itself would probably have been enough for an appeal.

Morrison himself did take the stand, although later he told Salli Stevenson in an interview that “I didn’t have to testify, but we decided that it might be a good thing for the jury to see what I was like, because all they could do is look at me for me six weeks or as long as it went. So, I testified a couple of days. I don’t think it meant anything one way or another.” Morrison’s testimony is posted at The Smoking Gun.

In the end, Morrison was found guilty of indecent exposure and profanity, both misdemeanors. He was found not guilty on the felony counts of lewd and lascivious behavior, and not guilty of public drunkenness, another misdemeanor. The sentence for the guilty verdict was six months in jail and a $500 fine for indecent exposure and two months and $25 for the profanity, with the jail terms being served concurrently. Morrison’s attorneys got Morrison out on $50,000 bond while appealing the decision.

Did Jim Morrison receive a fair trial in Miami? Probably not. There were several curious incidents, including Judge Goodman “forgetting” to give a jury instruction that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove exposure, and the failure to allow testimony that Morrison was within his First Amendment rights.

Further, what about having the trial on alternating days? That isn’t typical for a court proceeding. When the trial started, public attention was at full interest. The press was attending and covering the story and the court was packed with Morrison’s supporters. Were the alternating days an attempt to prolong the trial until public and press interest waned? Was it an attempt to deny The Doors ability to earn money because they couldn’t schedule concerts? Only Judge Goodman could answer those questions for sure. In any event, within a few months of sentencing Jim Morrison, Judge Goodman himself was found guilty of taking a bribe to influence the outcome of a trial. Goodman died a few years later.

When Jim Morrison left for Paris in March of 1971 he was still awaiting his appeal. The conviction still stands on Jim Morrison’s criminal record.

Note: After this article was originally published, Jim Morrison was formally pardoned on December 9, 2010.

Originally published August 12, 2010, and appears in “The Doors Examined.”

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