Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville
1. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972)
Prepared by Roger Martin
2. Facts: Eight defendants were convicted in Florida of violating a vagrancy ordinance which provided criminal penalties for “common night walkers,...persons wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object, habitual loafers,...persons...frequenting...places where alcoholic beverages are sold or served, persons able to work but habitually living upon the earnings of their wives or minor children.” In each of the cases, the persons may or may not have been preparing to commit a crime, but most of them seemed completely innocent and being harassed by the police. The statute did not provide any guidelines as to when the statute should be enforced, thus leaving ultimate discretion to the arresting police officers.
3. Procedural Posture: All were convicted in a Florida municipal court, and all convictions were upheld by the Florida appellate courts.
4. Issue: Whether the Florida vagrancy statute was unconstitutional as being contrary to the fourth amendment.
5. Holding: Yes.
6. Majority Reasoning: The statute failed to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct is forbidden by the statute. It also encouraged arbitrary and unequal enforcement. It served as a tool for the police officer to unreasonably detain and harass minorities and poor persons who were not engaged in criminal activity. It made criminal many actions that literally were normally innocent. For example, many people walk at night for various legitimate reasons. Many men live off of their wives’ income. Many highly respected persons frequent places where alcohol is served. This statute was incompatible with the constitutional notion of “probable cause” and the Fourth Amendment because it allowed persons to be arrested solely because they appeared as if they might commit a crime in the future. Furthermore, it was a tool that was being inconsistently applied to minorities and the poor.