State v. Johnson, NO. PD–0228–14

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtKeller, P.J.
Citation475 S.W.3d 860
Decision Date07 October 2015
Docket NumberNO. PD–0228–14
Parties The State of Texas v. Terence Johnson, Appellee

475 S.W.3d 860

The State of Texas
v.
Terence Johnson, Appellee

NO. PD–0228–14

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.

Delivered: October 7, 2015
Rehearing Denied December 9, 2015.


Joshua Thomas Liles, Palestine, for Appellee.

Amber N. Bewley, Assistant County Attorney, Crockett, Lisa C. McMinn, State's Attorney, Austin, for the State.

Keller, P.J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which Johnson, Keasler, Hervey, Alcala, and Richardson, JJ., joined.

Twenty-six years ago, the United States Supreme Court held that the prosecution of Gregory Lee Johnson under the Texas flag-desecration statute for burning an American flag violated the First Amendment.1 Texas has since revised and renamed the statute, which now provides in part:

A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly damages, defaces, mutilates, or burns the flag of the United States or the State of Texas.2

We hold that the statute is invalid on its face because it is unconstitutionally overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Incident

Video-camera surveillance showed two men and one woman walking on a covered sidewalk next to a building. One man jumped towards a hanging United States flag. Then the second man—appellee—reached and jumped for the flag and caused the flag and its staff to come off its post into his hand. Appellee then threw the flag and its staff into the street. At almost the same time that appellee threw the flag into the street, the other man knocked over flower pots along the sidewalk. Upon approaching the surveillance camera, appellee made various hand gestures and walked out of view.

In a recorded interview that occurred later, appellee explained that he threw the flag because he was "mad." He claimed that he was upset because of racial remarks made about his mother by a local merchant.

B. Trial Proceedings

As a result of this incident, appellee was charged by information with violating the Texas flag-destruction statute, Texas Penal Code § 42.11. The information alleged that, on or about April 29, 2012, appellee did "[i]ntentionally or knowingly damage, deface, or mutilate a flag of the United States by throwing the flag onto the ground/roadway of Highway 19." The information further alleged that this act was not done in conformity with statutes relating to the proper disposal of damaged flags.

475 S.W.3d 863

Appellee filed a motion to dismiss the information. At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, the parties presented argument on the constitutionality of the flag-destruction statute, and the State introduced the surveillance video and the recording of appellee's interview.

The trial judge ultimately granted the motion to dismiss. In her order, the trial judge observed that appellee could have been charged with criminal mischief under Texas Penal Code § 28.03, but, because his actions involved the United States flag, officers charged him under § 42.11. Citing Texas v. Johnson3 and United States v. Eichman,4 the trial judge concluded, "[S]tatutes which criminalize behavior because it specifically prohibits acts against the flag of the United States have consistently been found to be unconstitutional due to the restriction on the Constitutional rights to free speech and expression." Although Texas amended its statute after the United States Supreme Court handed down Texas v. Johnson, the trial judge concluded that the current statute contains language similar to the federal statute in Eichman, in which the Supreme Court found a First Amendment violation. The trial judge also rejected the State's argument that the defendant's actions were not speech. "If an action such as burning the flag is protected speech," the trial judge explained, "the action of throwing a flag to the ground can also be protect[ed] speech. Non-verbal action is expressive, [and] the government may not prohibit expression simply because it disagrees with the message or the way it is expressed." While the trial judge found the mistreatment of the United States Flag to be "personally appalling," she concluded that she was "bound to follow the rulings of higher courts."

C. Appeal

The State appealed. It contended that the statute was constitutional both on its face and as applied to appellee. With respect to appellee's facial challenge, the State contended that appellee had the burden to establish the statute's unconstitutionality and failed to meet that burden. The State contended that appellee had "not presented any evidence, cases, or arguments establishing [the statute's] unconstitutionality, with the exception of cases that never reached the issue of whether the statute in question was unconstitutional on its face." With respect to appellee's as-applied challenge, the State contended that appellee's conduct was not expressive because anyone observing his actions would believe merely that he was vandalizing the hardware store that displayed the flag and because nothing suggested that appellee was communicating any message at all. Part of the reason the State believed appellee's conduct was not expressive was that he told the police that he was angry at a merchant from a different store from the one whose flag he vandalized.

The court of appeals rejected appellee's claim that the flag-destruction statute was unconstitutional as applied. It concluded that appellee's conduct was not sufficiently imbued with elements of communication so as to implicate the First Amendment.5 But the court of appeals found that § 42.11

475 S.W.3d 864

was unconstitutional on its face because it was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.6 In arriving at its holding, the court researched cases in Texas and other jurisdictions that were handed down after Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, and the court "found no case in which an individual was prosecuted under a flag desecration statute that was determined to be both constitutional on its face and as applied."7 The court of appeals acknowledged that the lack of authority relating to the prosecution of individuals for flag desecration arguably shows a pattern of non-enforcement, but the court concluded that the statute was "not sufficiently narrow to prevent a chilling effect on the exercise of First Amendment freedoms" and that the court was "not permitted to uphold an unconstitutional statute, even if there are promises to use it responsibly."8

II. ANALYSIS

A. The Overbreadth Doctrine

The First Amendment protects, among other things, the freedom of speech.9 The First Amendment right to freedom of speech applies to the states by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment.10

With respect to constitutional provisions other than the First Amendment, a facial challenge to the constitutionality of a statute can succeed only when it is shown that the statute is unconstitutional in all of its applications.11 And usually, a defendant does not have standing to challenge a statute on the ground that it may be unconstitutionally applied to the conduct of others.12 But under the First

475 S.W.3d 865

Amendment's "overbreadth" doctrine, a law may be declared unconstitutional on its face, even if it may have some legitimate application and even if the parties before the court were not engaged in activity protected by the First Amendment.13 "Ordinarily, the principal advantage of the overbreadth doctrine for a litigant is that it enables him to benefit from the statute's unlawful application to someone else. "14

The overbreadth doctrine is "strong medicine" that is used "sparingly and only as a last resort.15 The overbreadth of a statute must be "substantial, not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to the statute's plainly legitimate sweep."16 The statute must prohibit a substantial amount of protected expression,17 and the danger that the statute will be unconstitutionally applied must be realistic18 and not based on "fanciful hypotheticals."19 The person challenging the statute must demonstrate from its text and from actual fact "that a substantial number of instances exist in which the Law cannot be applied constitutionally."20 The Supreme Court "generally do[es] not apply the ‘strong medicine’ of overbreadth analysis where the parties fail to describe the instances of arguable overbreadth of the contested law."21 Moreover, the overbreadth doctrine is concerned with preventing the chilling of protected speech and that concern "attenuates as the otherwise unprotected behavior that it forbids the State to sanction moves from ‘pure speech’ toward conduct."22 "Rarely, if ever, will an overbreadth challenge succeed against a law or regulation that is not specifically addressed to speech or to conduct that is necessarily associated with speech (such as picketing or demonstrating)."23

Judge Yeary's dissenting opinion suggests that, as a matter of state law, we might be free to refuse to entertain overbreadth claims. We do not agree. The dissent relies upon the United States Supreme Court case of Virginia v. Hicks24 and the Utah Supreme Court case of Provo City Corp. v. Willden.25 ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
55 practice notes
  • Ex parte Perry, NO. PD–1067–15
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • February 24, 2016
    ...property" and "[a]ppropriation is unlawful if ... it is without the owner's effective consent").169 424 S.W.3d 10 (Tex.Crim.App.2013).170 475 S.W.3d 860 (Tex.Crim.App.2015).171 ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2443, 2451, 192 L.Ed.2d 435 (2015).172 Id.173 Id. Whether a warrant may issue may itself ......
  • Ex parte Metzger, Nos. 04-19-00438-CR & 04-19-00450-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • August 26, 2020
    ...applied to him. Massachusetts v. Oakes , 491 U.S. 576, 581, 109 S.Ct. 2633, 105 L.Ed.2d 493 (1989) ; State v. Johnson , 475 S.W.3d 860, 864-65 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015) (stating that "under the First Amendment's ‘overbreadth’ doctrine, a law may be declared 610 S.W.3d 92 unconstitutional on it......
  • State v. Doyal, NO. PD-0254-18
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • February 27, 2019
    ...for a three member board, any conversation between two members would be in a quorum.74 Perry , 483 S.W.3d at 903.75 State v. Johnson , 475 S.W.3d 860, 872 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).76 State v. Markovich , 77 S.W.3d 274, 285 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002) (Keasler, J., dissenting).77 Long , 931 S.W.2d ......
  • Ex parte Poe, NO. 09–15–00373–CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • April 20, 2016
    ...of a statute will succeed only if it is shown that the statute is unconstitutional in all of its applications. State v. Johnson, 475 S.W.3d 860, 864 (Tex.Crim.App.2015). With respect to facial challenges that pertain to an activity or speech protected by the First Amendment, the challenger ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
55 cases
  • Ex parte Perry, NO. PD–1067–15
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • February 24, 2016
    ...property" and "[a]ppropriation is unlawful if ... it is without the owner's effective consent").169 424 S.W.3d 10 (Tex.Crim.App.2013).170 475 S.W.3d 860 (Tex.Crim.App.2015).171 ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2443, 2451, 192 L.Ed.2d 435 (2015).172 Id.173 Id. Whether a warrant may issue may itself ......
  • Ex parte Metzger, Nos. 04-19-00438-CR & 04-19-00450-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • August 26, 2020
    ...applied to him. Massachusetts v. Oakes , 491 U.S. 576, 581, 109 S.Ct. 2633, 105 L.Ed.2d 493 (1989) ; State v. Johnson , 475 S.W.3d 860, 864-65 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015) (stating that "under the First Amendment's ‘overbreadth’ doctrine, a law may be declared 610 S.W.3d 92 unconstitutional on it......
  • State v. Doyal, NO. PD-0254-18
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • February 27, 2019
    ...for a three member board, any conversation between two members would be in a quorum.74 Perry , 483 S.W.3d at 903.75 State v. Johnson , 475 S.W.3d 860, 872 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).76 State v. Markovich , 77 S.W.3d 274, 285 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002) (Keasler, J., dissenting).77 Long , 931 S.W.2d ......
  • Ex parte Poe, NO. 09–15–00373–CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • April 20, 2016
    ...of a statute will succeed only if it is shown that the statute is unconstitutional in all of its applications. State v. Johnson, 475 S.W.3d 860, 864 (Tex.Crim.App.2015). With respect to facial challenges that pertain to an activity or speech protected by the First Amendment, the challenger ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT