443 U.S. 47 (1979), 77-6673, Brown v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 77-6673
Citation:443 U.S. 47, 99 S.Ct. 2637, 61 L.Ed.2d 357
Party Name:Brown v. Texas
Case Date:June 25, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 47

443 U.S. 47 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 2637, 61 L.Ed.2d 357

Brown

v.

Texas

No. 77-6673

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1979

Argued February 21, 1979

APPEAL FROM THE COUNTY COURT AT LAW No. 2,

EL PASO COUNTY, TEXAS

Syllabus

Two police officers, while cruising near noon in a patrol car, observed appellant and another man walking away from one another in an alley in an area with a high incidence of drug traffic. They stopped and asked appellant to identify himself and explain what he was doing. One officer testified that he stopped appellant because the situation "looked suspicious, and we had never seen that subject in that area before." The officers did not claim to suspect appellant of any specific misconduct, nor did they have any reason to believe that he was armed. When appellant refused to identify himself, he was arrested for violation of a Texas statute which makes it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer "who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information." Appellant's motion to set aside an information charging him with violation of the statute on the ground that the statute violated the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments was denied, and he was convicted and fined.

Held: The application of the Texas statute to detain appellant and require him to identify himself violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers lacked any reasonable suspicion to believe that appellant was engaged or had engaged in criminal conduct. Detaining appellant to require him to identify himself constituted a seizure [99 S.Ct. 2639] of his person subject to the requirement of the Fourth Amendment that the seizure be "reasonable." Cf. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1; United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873. The Fourth Amendment requires that such a seizure be based on specific, objective facts indicating that society's legitimate interests require such action, or that the seizure be carried out pursuant to a plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on the conduct of individual officers. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648. Here, the State does not contend that appellant was stopped pursuant to a practice embodying neutral criteria, and the officers' actions were not justified on the ground that they had a reasonable suspicion, based on objective facts, that he was involved in criminal activity. Absent any basis for suspecting appellant of misconduct, the balance between the public interest in crime prevention and appellant's right to personal

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security and privacy tilts in favor of freedom from police interference.

Pp. 50-53.

Reversed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

MR CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal presents the question whether appellant was validly convicted for refusing to comply with a policeman's demand that he identify himself pursuant to a provision of the Texas Penal Code which makes it a crime to refuse such identification on request.

At 12:45 in the afternoon of December 9, 1977, Officers Venegas and Sotelo of the El Paso Police Department were cruising in a patrol car. They observed appellant and another man walking in opposite directions away from one another in an alley. Although the two men were a few feet apart when they first were seen, Officer Venegas later testified that both officers believed the two had been together or were about to meet until the patrol car appeared.

The car entered the alley, and Officer Venegas got out and asked appellant to identify himself and explain what he was

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doing there. The other man was not questioned or detained. The officer testified that he stopped appellant because the situation "looked suspicious, and we had never seen that subject in that area before." The area of El Paso where appellant was stopped has a high incidence of drug traffic. However, the officers did not claim to suspect appellant of any specific misconduct, nor did they have any reason to believe that he was armed.

Appellant refused to identify himself and angrily asserted that the officers had no right to stop him. Officer Venegas replied that he was in a "high drug problem area"; Officer Sotelo then "frisked" appellant, but found nothing.

When appellant continued to refuse to identify himself, he was arrested for violation of Tex.Penal Code Ann., Tit. 8, § 38.02(a) (1974), which makes it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer "who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information."1 Following the arrest, the officers searched appellant; nothing untoward was found.

While being taken to the El Paso County Jail, appellant identified himself. Nonetheless, he was held in custody and charged [99 S.Ct. 2640] with violating § 38.02(a). When he was booked, he was routinely searched a third time. Appellant was convicted in the El Paso Municipal Court and fined $20 plus court costs for violation of § 38.02. He then exercised his right under Texas law to a trial de novo in the El Paso County Court. There, he moved to set aside the information on the ground that § 38.02(a) of the Texas Penal Code violated the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments and was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The

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motion was denied. Appellant waived a jury, and the court convicted him and imposed a fine of $45 plus court costs.

Under Texas law, an appeal from an inferior court to a county court is subject to further review only if a fine exceeding $100 is imposed. Tex. Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Art. 4.03 (Vernon 1977). Accordingly, the County Court's rejection of appellant's constitutional claims was a decision "by the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had." 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2). On appeal here, we noted probable jurisdiction. 439 U.S. 909 (1978). We reverse.

II

When the officers detained appellant for the purpose of requiring him to identify himself, they performed a seizure of his person subject to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. In convicting appellant, the County Court necessarily found as a matter of fact that the officers "lawfully stopped" appellant. See Tex.Penal Code Ann., Tit. 8, § 38.02 (1974). The Fourth Amendment, of course,

applies to all seizures of the person, including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional arrest. Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721 (1969); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16-19 (1968). "[W]henever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has `seized' that person," id. at 16, and the Fourth Amendment requires that the seizure be "reasonable."

United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975).

The reasonableness of seizures that are less intrusive than a...

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