Kolender v. Lawson

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Kolender v. Lawson
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 8, 1982
Decided May 2, 1983
Full case name Kolender, Chief of Police of San Diego, et al. v. Edward Lawson
Citations 461 U.S. 352 (more)
75 L. Ed.2d 903, 103 S. Ct. 1855 (1983)
Prior history 658 F.2d 1362 (9th Cir. 1981)
Holding
A law requiring persons who loiter or wander on the streets to present identification and to account for their presence when requested by a police officer is unconstitutional.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority O'Connor, joined by Burger, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens
Concurrence Brennan
Dissent White, joined by Rehnquist
Laws applied
California Penal Code §647(e)

Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352 (1983), is a United States Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of laws that allow police to demand that “loiterers” and “wanderers” provide identification.

Facts[edit]

Edward Lawson was a law-abiding black man of unusual deportment (he wore his hair in long dreadlocks). Lawson was frequently subjected to police questioning and harassment in San Diego County, California, where he lived when as a pedestrian he walked in so-called "white neighborhoods." He was detained or arrested approximately 15 times by the San Diego Police within 18 months, was prosecuted twice, and was convicted once (the second charge was dismissed).

Lawson challenged California Penal Code §647(e),[1] which required persons who loiter or wander on the streets to identify themselves and account for their presence when requested by a peace officer to do so. A California appellate court, in People v. Solomon (1973), 33 Cal. App.3d 429, had construed the law to require “credible and reliable” identification that carries a “reasonable assurance” of its authenticity.[2]

William Kolender was a losing appellant who was acting in his capacity as Chief of Police of San Diego, as was John Duffy who was acting in his capacity as Sheriff of San Diego County.

Conclusion[edit]

Using the construction of the California appellate court in Solomon, the Court held that the law was unconstitutionally vague because it gave excessive discretion to the police (in the absence of probable cause to arrest) whether to stop and interrogate a suspect or leave him alone.[3] The Court hinted that the California statute compromised the constitutional right to freedom of movement.[Note 1] [Note 2]

Prior history[edit]

The Court affirmed the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Lawson v. Kolender, 658 F.2d 1362 (1981). The Ninth Circuit had additionally held that Penal Code §647(e) violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures because it “subverts the probable cause requirement” by authorizing arrest for conduct that is no more than suspicious. “Vagrancy statutes cannot turn otherwise innocent conduct into a crime.” Id. at 1367.

The Ninth Circuit also noted that “police knowledge of the identity of an individual they have deemed ‘suspicious’ grants the police unfettered discretion to initiate or continue the investigation of the person long after the detention has ended. Information concerning the stop, the arrest and the individual’s identity may become part of a large scale data bank.” Id. at 1368.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court were able to resolve Kolender on the issue of vagueness, they did not decide the Fourth Amendment issue.

Subsequent history[edit]

Kolender was cited in Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), as an example of a “stop and identify” statute the Court had voided on vagueness grounds. In Hiibel, the Court held that a Nevada law[6] requiring persons detained upon reasonable suspicion of involvement in a crime to identify themselves to a peace officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures or the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self incrimination. Unlike California Penal Code §647(e) as construed in Solomon, the Nevada statute was apparently interpreted by the Nevada Supreme Court as requiring only that persons detained state their names.[7]

California Penal Code §647(e) was repealed in 2008 at the request of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.[8]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ US Supreme Court upheld circuit court holdings:
    • A person can not be required to furnish identification if not reasonably suspected of any criminal conduct.
    • A reasonable suspicion of criminal activity alone is insufficient to justify a patdown search
    • The person stopped is not obliged to answer, answers may not be compelled, and refusal to answer furnishes no basis for an arrest.
    • Vagrancy ordinances cannot turn otherwise innocent conduct into a crime.
    • Personal liberty, which is guaranteed to every citizen under U.S. Constitution and laws, consists of the right of locomotion, to go where one pleases, and when, and to do that which may lead to one's business or pleasure, only so far restrained as the rights of others may make it necessary for the welfare of all other citizens. One may travel along the public highways or in public places; and while conducting themselves in a decent and orderly manner, disturbing no other, and interfering with the rights of no other citizens, there, they will be protected under the law, not only their persons, but in their safe conduct. Any law that would place the keeping and safe conduct of another in the hands of even a conservator of the peace, unless for some breach of the peace committed in his presence, or upon suspicion of felony, would be most oppressive and unjust, and destroy all the rights, which the Constitution guarantees.
    • An innocent person cannot generally know when a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that his behavior warrants further investigation for criminal activity, and therefore cannot know when refusal to identify himself will be a crime.
    • No one may be required under peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal statutes.
    • Police knowledge of the identity of an individual they have deemed "suspicious" grants the police unfettered discretion to initiate or continue investigation of the person long after the detention has ended. Information concerning the stop, the arrest and the individual's identity may become part of a large scale data bank. The serious intrusion on personal security outweighs the mere possibility that identification may provide a link leading to arrest.[4]
  2. ^ US Supreme Court's own holdings:
    • While police have the right to request citizens to answer voluntarily questions concerning unsolved crimes they have no right to compel them to answer.
    • Fourth Amendment concerns are implicated where a state statute permits investigative detentions in situations where the police officers lack a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on objective facts.
    • The concern with curbing criminal activity cannot justify legislation that would otherwise fail to meet constitutional standards for definiteness and clarity.
    • A state criminal statute that requires persons who loiter or wander on the streets to provide a credible and reliable identification and to account for their presence when requested by a peace officer under circumstances that would justify a valid stop is unconstitutionally vague on its face within the meaning of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it encourages arbitrary enforcement by failing to clarify what is contemplated by the requirement that a suspect provide a credible and reliable identification.
    • Statutory limitations on individual freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are examined for substantive authority and content as well as for definiteness or certainty of expression. The void-for-vagueness doctrine requires that a penal statute define the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
    • In providing that a detention under a state statute may occur only where there is the level of suspicion sufficient to justify a constitutional stop, a state insures the existence of neutral limitations on the conduct of individual officers.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ California Penal Code §647(e) read, in relevant part,
    “Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor: . . . (e) who loiters or wanders upon the streets or from place to place without apparent reason or business and who refuses to identify himself and to account for his presence when requested by any peace officer so to do, if the surrounding circumstances are such as to indicate to a reasonable man that the public safety demands such identification.”
    California later removed this section because of this lawsuit, replacing it with what used to be §647(f).
  2. ^ In People v. Solomon (1973), the Court construed § 647(e) as requiring that a person detained under that statute’s authority produce “credible and reliable identification . . . carrying reasonable assurance that the identification is authentic and providing means for later getting in touch with the person who has identified himself.” (33 Cal.App.3d 429, 439). The California Supreme Court denied review. Both the Ninth Circuit (658 F.2d 1362, 1364–1365, n. 3) and the U.S. Supreme Court (461 U.S. 352, 356, n. 4) used this construction in voiding § 647(e) for vagueness.
  3. ^ Justice O’Connor, writing for the Court, noted that the law
    “... provided no standard for determining what a suspect must do to comply with [the law]”, conferring on police “virtually unrestrained power to arrest and charge persons with a violation.”
  4. ^ "Lawson v. Kolender". United States Federal Reports (United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit) 2 (658): 1362. Oct 15, 1981. 
  5. ^ "Kolender v. Lawson". United States Reports (Supreme Court of the United States) 461: 352. May 2, 1983. 
  6. ^ Nev. Rev. Stat. (NRS) §171.123(3) provides that:

    The officer may detain the person pursuant to this section only to ascertain his identity and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his presence abroad. Any person so detained shall identify himself, but may not be compelled to answer any other inquiry of any peace officer.

  7. ^ See Hiibel v. Dist. Ct., 118 Nev. 868, at 875.
  8. ^ California Penal Code §647(e) was repealed by Ch. 302, Stats. 2007 (SB 425, Margett), at the request of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The analysis on 11 June 2007 by the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety noted that “The provision has served no purpose other than to cause confusion since 1983”.

External links[edit]

  • Text of Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352 (1983) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia