Palmer v. City of Euclid

RESPONDENT: City of Euclid
LOCATION: Duke Power Company's Dan River Stream Station

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 402 US 544 (1971)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1971
DECIDED: May 24, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Palmer v. City of Euclid

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 11, 1971 in Palmer v. City of Euclid

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in 143, Palmer against the City of Euclid.

Mr. Schwartz you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Niki Z. Schwartz:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The issue in this case is the constitutionality of Section 583.01 (e) of the ordinances of the City of Euclid, Ohio which makes it unlawful for any suspicious person to be within the municipality and Part (e) defining suspicious person as any person who wanders about the streets or other public ways or who is found abroad at later unusual hours in the night without any visible or lawful business and who does not give satisfactory accounting himself.

Now, this question arises on the following facts.

On April 19, 1967, an off duty Euclid policeman who was on his part time job as a patrolman or watchman at a very large apartment complex in the City of Euclid had his concern alerted by noticing a car driving slowly in the parking lot of the apartment complex.

At a speed, he estimated as three to five miles an hour with the lights off.

Secondly, he testified that his suspicion was aroused by the fact that the car stopped and discharged a “colored female” and he knew that no colored female lived in that apartment complex and this aroused his suspicion.

The third thing, he testified that aroused the suspicion was that after discharging the female, the car, which was ultimately determined to be driven by the appellant or defendant here, James Palmer, turned on its lights, pulled down to the street and parked.

Upon approaching the car, the officer testified that he noticed the appellant speaking over a citizen’s band or two-way radio.

As a result of these three things, he asked Palmer to get out of the car, put him up against the car, demanded his license, his driver’s license which was furnished and asked him to explain what he was doing there.

He explained that he had left, discharged the friend, further inquiry about the identity and purpose of the friend resulted in no response.

Byron R. White:

Does the record show what happened to the girl?

Niki Z. Schwartz:

The record shows that following the unsatisfactory response as far as the officer was concerned, he marched the defendant into the building at gun point called for assistance from the Police Department and a search was conducted of the entire premises and the girl was not found.

Subsequently, the defendant finally agreed to state where he thought that the girl had gone to specific apartment number.

They went up to that apartment, by this time it was 2:30 or 2:45 to 3:00 in the morning and knocked on the door at that apartment, the police officer.

And a male answered the door and was asked, “Is there a colored female in the premises?”

And upon being informed that the answer was no that officers left continuing to search on the premises for the girl.

Potter Stewart:

Does the record show whether there have been any burglary incidents in the area in the immediate past.

Niki Z. Schwartz:

The record shows that there were no reports of any incident of any kind that there was -- not ever any report of any crime having been committed that night.

Now, after Palmer was stopped, frisked, detained, arrested, searched, taken to the police station, interrogated, stolen car sheet checked, it was determined that absolutely no substantive offense had ever occurred and that there was not a (Inaudible) of evidence of any having ever occurred.

And subsequently, Palmer was charged with being a suspicious person in violation of this section.

Now at first blush perhaps, this case seems to be another in the line of cases, testing police investigatory power versus individual liberty, many of which incredibly arise out of the Cleveland area, Mapp versus Ohio, Beck versus Ohio, and Terry versus Ohio.

But there’s one crucial difference in this case.

In those cases, the issue was shall a concededly guilty man go for woman, go free in order to serve some interest of constitutional liberty.

Here, the issue is shall an innocent man be convicted and incarcerated in order to serve some putative interest in law enforcement or maintenance of order.

And I’m prepared to demonstrate that this ordinance on its face and as applied does great violence to hover constitutional rights and with no justification in necessity of law enforcement for maintenance of order.

What sentence did this man get?

Niki Z. Schwartz:

The man was sentenced to pay $50.00 fine in cost and to serve 30 days in the Cuyahoga County Jail.

Warren E. Burger:

Has he served this?