402 U.S. 544 (1971), 143, Palmer v. City of Euclid

Docket Nº:No. 143
Citation:402 U.S. 544, 91 S.Ct. 1563, 29 L.Ed.2d 98
Party Name:Palmer v. City of Euclid
Case Date:May 24, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 544

402 U.S. 544 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 1563, 29 L.Ed.2d 98



City of Euclid

No. 143

United States Supreme Court

May 24, 1971

Argued January 11, 1971



Appellant, who had been seen to drive his car late at night from a parking lot and discharge a female at an apartment house, park on the street, and use a two-way radio, and who thereafter gave the police multiple addresses and denied knowledge of his friend's identity, was convicted of violating the Euclid; Ohio, "suspicious person ordinance," which makes it a crime to (1) wander about the streets or be abroad at late or unusual hours; (2) be at the time without visible or lawful business; and (3) fail satisfactorily to explain one's presence on the streets. His conviction was upheld on appeal.

Held: The ordinance is unconstitutionally vague as applied to appellant, since it gave insufficient notice that appellant's conduct in the parked car or in discharging his passenger was enough to show him to be "without visible or lawful business."


Per curiam opinion.


Appellant Palmer was convicted by a jury of violating the City of Euclid's [91 S.Ct. 1564] "suspicious person ordinance," that is, of being

[a]ny person who wanders about the streets or other public ways or who is found abroad at late or unusual hours in the night without any visible or lawful business and who does not give satisfactory account of himself.

He was fined $50 and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The County Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, and appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio was dismissed "for

Page 545

the reason that no substantial constitutional question exists herein." We noted probable jurisdiction. 397 U.S. 1073 (1970).

We reverse the judgment against Palmer because the ordinance is so vague and lacking in ascertainable standards of guilt that, as applied to Palmer, it failed to give "a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden. . . ." United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617 (1954).

The elements of the crime defined by the ordinance apparently are (1) wandering about the streets or being abroad at late or unusual hours; (2) being at the time without visible or lawful business; * and (3) failing to give a satisfactory explanation for his presence on the streets. Palmer, in his car,...

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