Kolender v. Lawson

PETITIONER: Kolender
RESPONDENT: Lawson
LOCATION: Residence of Senator Ernie Chambers

DOCKET NO.: 81-1320
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 461 US 352 (1983)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1982
DECIDED: May 02, 1983

ADVOCATES:
A. Wells Petersen - Argued the cause for the appellants
Mark D. Rosenbaum - By invitation of the Court, argued the cause as amicus curiae in support of the judgment below

Facts of the case

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. Lawson challenged the California law "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."

Question

Is the California statute unconstitutionally vague?

Media for Kolender v. Lawson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1982 in Kolender v. Lawson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 02, 1983 in Kolender v. Lawson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Kolender against Lawson will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case is here on appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The appeal presents a facial challenge to a criminal statute that requires people who loiter or wander on the streets to provide a credible and reliable identification and to account for their presence when requested by a police officer under circumstances that would justify a lawful investigative stop.

The appellee, Lawson was detained by police under that statute on approximately 15 occasions in less than two years.

He brought suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the statute is unconstitutional, an injunction against enforcement of the statute, and compensatory and punitive damages.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the District Court which held that to stop and identify statute was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the Fourth Amendment.

We affirm the judgment of the Ninth Circuit on the Fourteenth Amendment ground that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and that it does not provide a clear standard of enforcement.

The statute fails to specify what is contemplated by the requirement that a suspect provide a credible and reliable identification.

The statute vests complete discretion in the police to determine whether the suspect has satisfied the statutory requirements.

Justice Brennan has filed a concurring opinion.

Justice White with whom Justice Rehnquist joins has filed a dissent.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice O'Connor.