405 U.S. 156 (1972), 70-5030, Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville

Docket Nº:No. 70-5030
Citation:405 U.S. 156, 92 S.Ct. 839, 31 L.Ed.2d 110
Party Name:Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville
Case Date:February 24, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

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405 U.S. 156 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 839, 31 L.Ed.2d 110



City of Jacksonville

No. 70-5030

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1972

Argued December 8, 1971




The Jacksonville vagrancy ordinance, under which petitioners were convicted, is void for vagueness, in that it "fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute," it encourages arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions, it makes criminal activities that, by modern standards, are normally innocent, and it places almost unfettered discretion in the hands of the police. Pp. 161-171.

236 So.2d 141, reversed.

DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves eight defendants who were convicted in a Florida municipal court of violating a Jacksonville, Florida, vagrancy ordinance.1 Their convictions

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were affirmed by the Florida Circuit Court in a consolidated appeal, and their petition for certiorari was denied by the District Court of Appeal on the authority of Johnson v. State, 202 So.2d 82.2 The case is

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here on a petition for certiorari, which we granted. 403 U.S. 917. For reasons which will appear, we reverse.

At issue are five consolidated cases. Margaret Papachristou, Betty Calloway, Eugene Eddie Melton, and Leonard Johnson were all arrested early on a Sunday morning, and charged with vagrancy -- "prowling by auto."

Jimmy Lee Smith and Milton Henry were charged with vagrancy -- "vagabonds."

Henry Edward Heath and a codefendant were arrested for vagrancy -- "loitering" and "common thief."

Thomas Owen Campbell was charged with vagrancy -- "common thief."

Hugh Brown was charged with vagrancy -- "disorderly loitering on street" and "disorderly conduct -- resisting arrest with violence."

The facts are stipulated. Papachristou and Calloway are white females. Melton and Johnson are black males. Papachristou was enrolled in a Job-training program sponsored by the State Employment Service at Florida Junior College in Jacksonville. Calloway was a typing and shorthand teacher at a state mental institution located near Jacksonville. She was the owner of the automobile in which the four defendants were arrested. Melton was a Vietnam war veteran who had been released from the Navy after nine months in a veterans' hospital. On the date of his arrest, he was a part-time computer helper while attending college as a full-time student in Jacksonville. Johnson was a tow-motor operator in a grocery chain warehouse, and was a lifelong resident of Jacksonville.

At the time of their arrest, the four of them were riding

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in Calloway's car on the main thoroughfare in Jacksonville. They had left a restaurant owned by Johnson's uncle, where they had eaten, and were on their way to a nightclub. The arresting officers denied that the racial mixture in the car played any part in the decision to make the arrest. The arrest, they said, was made because the defendants had stopped near a used-car lot which had been broken into several times. There was, however, no evidence of any breaking and entering on the night in question.

Of these four charged with "prowling by auto," none had been previously arrested [92 S.Ct. 842] except Papachristou, who had once been convicted of a municipal offense.

Jimmy Lee Smith and Milton Henry (who is not a petitioner) were arrested between 9 and 10 a.m. on a weekday in downtown Jacksonville, while waiting for a friend who was to lend them a car so they could apply for a job at a produce company. Smith was a part-time produce worker and part-time organizer for a Negro political group. He had a common law wife and three children supported by him and his wife. He had been arrested several times, but convicted only once. Smith's companion, Henry, was an 18-year-old high school student with no previous record of arrest.

This morning, it was cold, and Smith had no jacket, so they went briefly into a dry cleaning shop to wait, but left when requested to do so. They thereafter walked back and forth two or three times over a two-block stretch looking for their friend. The store owners, who apparently were wary of Smith and his companion, summoned two police officers, who searched the men and found neither had a weapon. But they were arrested because the officers said they had no identification and because the officers did not believe their story.

Heath and a codefendant were arrested for "loitering" and for "common thief." Both were residents of Jacksonville, Heath having lived there all his life and being

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employed at an automobile body shop. Heath had previously been arrested, but his codefendant had no arrest record. Heath and his companion were arrested when they drove up to a residence shared by Heath's girlfriend and some other girls. Some police officers were already there in the process of arresting another man. When Heath and his companion started backing out of the driveway, the officers signaled to them to stop and asked them to get out of the car, which they did. Thereupon they and the automobile were searched. Although no contraband or incriminating evidence was found, they were both arrested, Heath being charged with being a "common thief" because he was reputed to be a thief. The codefendant was charged with "loitering" because he was standing in the driveway, an act which the officers admitted was done only at their command.

Campbell was arrested as he reached his home very early one morning and was charged with "common thief." He was stopped by officers because he was traveling at a high rate of speed, yet no speeding charge was placed against him.

Brown was arrested when he was observed leaving a downtown Jacksonville hotel by a police officer seated in a cruiser. The police testified he was reputed to be a thief, narcotics pusher, and generally opprobrious character. The officer called Brown over to the car, intending at that time to arrest him unless he had a good explanation for being on the street. Brown walked over to the police cruiser, as commanded, and the officer began to search him, apparently preparatory to placing him in the car. In the process of the search, he came on two small packets which were later found to contain heroin. When the officer touched the pocket where the packets were, Brown began to resist. He was charged with "disorderly loitering on street" and "disorderly

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conduct -- resisting arrest with violence." While he was also charged with a narcotics violation, that charge was nolled.

Jacksonville's ordinance and Florida's statute were "derived from early English law," Johnson v. State, 202 So.2d at 854, and employ "archaic language" in their definitions of vagrants. Id. at 855. The history is an often-told tale. The breakup of feudal estates in England led to labor shortages which, in turn, resulted in the Statutes of Laborers,3 designed to stabilize the labor force by prohibiting increases in wages and prohibiting the movement of workers from their home areas in search of improved conditions. Later, vagrancy laws became criminal [92 S.Ct. 843] aspects of the poor laws. The series of laws passed in England on the subject became increasingly severe.4

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But "the theory of the Elizabethan poor laws no longer fits the facts," Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, 174. The conditions which spawned these laws may be gone, but the archaic classifications remain.

This ordinance is void for vagueness, both in the sense that it "fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute," United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 617, and because it encourages arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions. Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88; Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242.

Living under a rule of law entails various suppositions, one of which is that "[all persons] are entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids." Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 453.

Lanzetta is one of a well recognized group of cases insisting that the law give fair notice of the offending conduct. See Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391; Cline v. Frink Dairy Co., 274 U.S. 445; United States v. Cohen Grocery Co., 255 U.S. 81. In the field of regulatory statutes governing business activities, where the acts limited are in a narrow category, greater leeway is allowed. Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, 342 U.S. 337; United States v. National Dairy Products Corp., 372 U.S. 29; United States v. Petrillo, 332 U.S. 1.

The poor among us, the minorities, the average householder, are not in business and not alerted to the regulatory

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schemes of vagrancy laws; and we assume they would have no understanding of their meaning and impact if they read them. Nor are they protected from being caught in the vagrancy net by the necessity of having a specific intent to commit an unlawful act. See Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91; [92 S.Ct. 844] Boyce Motor Lines, Inc. v. United States, supra.

The Jacksonville ordinance makes criminal activities which, by modern standards, are normally innocent. "Nightwalking" is one. Florida construes the ordinance not to make criminal one night's wandering, Johnson v. State, 202 So.2d at 855, only the "habitual" wanderer or, as the ordinance describes it, "common night walkers." We know, however, from...

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