Bachellar v. Maryland

LOCATION: Vale Residence

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 397 US 564 (1970)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1970
DECIDED: Apr 20, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for Bachellar v. Maryland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1970 in Bachellar v. Maryland

Warren E. Burger:

Number 729, Bachellar against Maryland.

Mr. Amsterdam, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Anthony G. Amsterdam:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This state disorderly conduct prosecution brings to the Court three issues of greatly varying breadth.

The narrowest relates simply to the jury instructions in this particular case.

And it is whether on this record and in light of the trial court's charge defining the offensive disorderly conduct.

The Court's failure to give certain instruction requested by the petitioner caused the case to go to the jury on a constitutionally impermissible basis.

The second and broader question is whether on this record, the conviction of these petitioners under the specific definition of disorderly conduct charged to the jury violates the First Amendment or in other words, whether the Maryland disorderly conduct statute has been unconstitutionally applied.

And the third question is whether the Maryland disorderly conduct statute is unconstitutional on its face by virtue of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Now, all three of these questions have in common, the language of the offense of disorderly conduct in Maryland, resolution of any of them requires careful attention to that language and I would like to start with it.

Potter Stewart:

Just before you do, Mr. Amsterdam, let me be sure that I understand the distinct categories into which you put your three issues in increasing breadths.

You said the last one was whether the statute on its face is unconstitutional as violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendment and you mean -- does this have to do with vagueness or breadth, over breadth or vagueness or does it have to do with what the statute explicitly prohibits and makes an offense?

Anthony G. Amsterdam:

It has to do with the particularized standards of vagueness and over breadth applicable in the First Amendment area.

So, when I say unconstitutional on its face, I mean unconstitutional on its face in the same sense in which this Court has looked to the facial validity of statutes when applied in areas involving speech.

I am talking about a First Amendment contention, but it's not unrelated to the general doctrines of vagueness and over breadth.

There's a more particularized doctrine of vagueness and over breadth applicable in the First Amendment area.

It is that which we invoke.

Potter Stewart:


Anthony G. Amsterdam:

Now, it is not unusual that in the disorderly conduct area, the statute itself does not contain the exhaustive definition of the crime.

The statute is found on page 4 of our brief and it simply says, “Every person who shall be found acting in a disorderly manner to the disturbance of a public peace upon any street or highway or in other public places is guilty of the offense.”

However, the statute has been authoritatively construed by the Maryland Court of Appeals and at pages 30 and 31 of our brief, we both state those constructions and set forth the portions of the specific jury charge in this case which embody the Maryland doctrines of disorderly conduct.

And there are two distinct theories of disorderly conduct in Maryland.

The first as charged to petitioner's jury is, disorderly conduct is the doing or saying, or both, of that which offends, disturbs, incites, or tends to incite a number of people gathered in the same area.

It is conduct of such nature as to affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness it and who maybe disturbed or provoked to resentment because of that.

Warren E. Burger:

Now, the term peace and quiet, there is linked up directly with the incite, and the peace and quiet are linked, are they not?

Anthony G. Amsterdam:

Well, it is unclear.

Again, it's of the nature of definitions of this sort that they don't make those linkages clear.

The -- the verbal terminology is--conduct of such nature as to affect the peace and quiet.

Now, I take it there's a relationship between that and inciting and disturbing, but the verbal mix is not direct.

The second -- for sure, I think it maybe helpful to call that the disturbing of public theory of disorderly conduct and I refer to it as that.