Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville

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Papachristou v. Jacksonville
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 8–, 1971
Decided February 24, 1972
Full case name Margaret Papachristou et al. v. City of Jacksonville
Docket nos. 70-5030
Citations 405 U.S. 156 (more)
92 S. Ct. 839; 31 L. Ed. 2d 110; 1972 U.S. LEXIS 84
Prior history Certiorari to the District Court of Appeal of Florida, 236 So. 2d 141 (1970)
The court ruled that the Jacksonville vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutionally vague because people do not have fair notice of forbidden behavior and are arbitrarily arrested.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William O. Douglas · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
Case opinions
Majority Douglas, joined by Burger, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun
Powell and Rehnquist took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972), was a United States Supreme Court case resulting in a Jacksonville vagrancy ordinance being declared unconstitutionally vague. The case was argued on December 8, 1971, and decided on February 24, 1972. The respondent was the city of Jacksonville, Florida.


Papachristou was one of eight defendants who were convicted for violating a Jacksonville vagrancy ordinance, which forbade a large number of activities including "wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object." The defendants were charged with several violations under the ordinance: prowling by auto, being vagabonds, loitering, being common thieves, disorderly loitering, and resisting arrest.


The Court held that the vagrancy ordinance was unconstitutionally vague because it gave too much arbitrary power to the police. The court found that the laws could criminalize a variety of innocent activities, such as "nightwalking" or "habitually living 'without visible means of support.'" A valid law, the Court found, needed to be clearly written and evenly administered:

Those generally implicated by the imprecise terms of the ordinance -- poor people, nonconformists, dissenters, idlers -- may be required to comport themselves according to the lifestyle deemed appropriate by the Jacksonville police and the courts. Where, as here, there are no standards governing the exercise of the discretion granted by the ordinance, the scheme permits and encourages an arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of the law. It furnishes a convenient tool for "harsh and discriminatory enforcement by local prosecuting officials, against particular groups deemed to merit their displeasure."... It results in a regime in which the poor and the unpopular are permitted to "stand on a public sidewalk... only at the whim of any police officer."

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