In 1951, the Ohio General Assembly established the Un-American Activities Commission. Forty Ohioans were questioned about their affiliation with Communism, including Oscar Smilack, a first-generation immigrant and social activist. Smilack refused to answer questions related to his involvement with and support for Communism.

Smilack was charged with a violation of the Ohio General Code because of his refusal to testify, a misdemeanor punishable only by fine. He attempted to plead not guilty in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. However, the prosecutor alleged that the death of Smilack’s mother had caused him severe psychological trauma and that he should be committed to Lima State Hospital (run by Superintendent Roy E. Bushong) for a 30-day evaluation of his mental condition. The court granted the prosecutor’s request over ACLU attorney Jack Dworken’s objection. No formal hearing as to Smilack’s mental condition was held nor was any evidence to prove insanity presented.

Smilack filed a petition claiming that his confinement “was without any legal authority.” He alleged that his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 16 of the Ohio Constitution were violated because the process by which he was committed to Lima State Hospital did not correspond with the process established in the Ohio General Code for court-ordered confinement to a mental institution.

ACLU attorneys Jack Dworken and Jack Day assisted Smilack with his appeal. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision and ruled that Smilack should not be confined in Lima State Hospital. The Court clarified that it was not concerned with the accused’s political philosophy. It found that the evidence used in support of Smilack’s confinement was lacking and that no hearing to determine Smilack’s mental condition had ever taken place. The decision noted, “The sending of a person to an institution for the criminal insane, even for a short time, is a serious matter and his confinement there is as full and effective a deprivation of personal liberty as is his confinement in jail.” Smilack was subsequently released to the custody of the county sheriff.

159 Ohio St. 259, 111 N.E.2d 918

Date filed

June 2, 1952