- Kolender v. Lawson
Litigants=Kolender v. Lawson
FullName=Kolender, Chief of Police of San Diego, et al. v. Edward Lawson
Prior=Certiorari to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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.
JoinMajority=Burger, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens
"Kolender v. Lawson", ussc|461|352|1983, is a
United States Supreme Courtcase concerning the constitutionality of laws that allow police to demand that “loiterers” and “wanderers” provide identification.
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 when he walked in white neighborhoods. He was detained or arrested approximately 15 times, was prosecuted twice, and was convicted once (the second charge was dismissed).
Lawson challenged California Penal Code §647(e), [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.”] 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.
Was the California statute unconstitutionally vague?
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. [
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.”] The Court hinted that the California statute compromised the constitutional right to freedom of movement.
The Court affirmed the decision of the Circuit 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.
"Kolender" was cited in "
Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada", ussc|542|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 [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.”] 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. [See "Hiibel v. Dist. Ct.", 118 Nev. 868, at 875.]
California Penal Code §647(e) was repealed in 2008 at the request of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. [California Penal Code §647(e) was repealed by Ch. 302, Stats. 2007 (SB 425, Margett).]
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 461
case="Kolender v. Lawson", 461 U.S. 352 (1983)
* [http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1982/1982_81_1320/argument/ Oyez Oral Argument]
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