Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville

PETITIONER: Papachristou
RESPONDENT: City of Jacksonville
LOCATION: Bay Marchand Area

DOCKET NO.: 70-5030
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 405 US 156 (1972)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1971
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1972

Samuel S. Jacobson - for petitioners
T. Edward Austin, Jr. - for respondent

Facts of the case

Margaret Papachristou and seven other persons were accused of vagrancy and arrested for infringement of a Jacksonville ordinance. It forbade a big number of general actions considered as offenses, such as wandering, dawdling, walking without purposes, idleness that could be just non-employment and living at someone`s expenses, engaging into gambling or lottery.

The defendants were charged with few infringements of the legal act, but they affirmed that had not been involved in any criminal offenses. They stated about the breach their guarantees under the due process that based on void for vagueness rule. The appellants brought the claim before the Supreme Court of the USA that ordered certiorari. The responders were presented by the representatives of administration of Jacksonville city in Florida.

The Court found that the Jacksonville act contradicted with the Constitution because it established too broad definitions of the offenses and empowered police with too much power. The case study in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville underlines that, the judges, upheld that mentioned legislative document considered many usual activities as crimes, like walking during the night or living without essential means. The judgment underlined that the law in such version should be revised and amended by clear prescriptions. Because such rules discriminated the separate groups of people and entitled the police with the rights to arrest them without actually any substantial grounds on it and to govern by own decision.

Hence, under the court order, the vagrancy act was deemed as unconstitutional that contravened to the due process clause.


Media for Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1971 in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Number 5030, Papachristou against Jacksonville.

Mr. Jacobson, you may proceed.

Samuel S. Jacobson:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case involves the conviction of eight persons for vagrancy in the Municipal Court of the City of Jacksonville, Florida under the Jacksonville Vagrancy Ordinance.

Petitioners and the Trial Court and through the Florida appellant system contended that the ordinance upon which they were convicted was facially invalid and they are now here on a writ of certiorari to the First District Court of Appeals, State of Florida where they began off with the same contentions.

In your brief you talked about the ordinance and for reasons that I think and I understand also the State statute, very similar one which is assimilated --

Samuel S. Jacobson:


I was just going to mention that of -- we treated that on the possibility that the City might have kept following back after our brief was filed on the State statute that --

Might have --

Samuel S. Jacobson:

They have not done so and I do not think the State’s statute is involved in this case.

So it is common ground now if the -- what the issue here is the ordinance.

Samuel S. Jacobson:

They are very similar so that I do not think it makes much different but there is no question that the statute is not involved now.

The only contention that we do offer is that the City Ordinance is on its face unconstitutional and invalid.

We contend at the same time that the whole ordinance is unconstitutional.

We argue that the petitioners in this case were convicted generally of vagrancy at least cannot be said this with regard to seven of them that they were convicted under any specific sub-part of the ordinance in question and that as a result under this Court’s previous rulings that they are able to show that any part of the general legislation is unconstitutional then they are entitled to a reversal of the acquittal.

Because our attack is limited to the facial validity of the ordinance, I do not propose to go into the statements of facts that were set out by stipulation with the City in the petitioners’ brief unless there is some question about one particular case from any member of Court.


I have one question.

One of the petitioners here is Brown.

Samuel S. Jacobson:

Yes sir.

Was Brown loitering?

Samuel S. Jacobson:

The evidence was that Brown came out of a hotel which was suppose to be of low repute and that as he walked out of the hotel he was moving and it was late at night and then he had something that resembled money in his hands and that two police officers who were there were suspicious of him and they called -- they then called him over as he walked down the street unless his movement down the street could be considered loitering, I do not know that there would be any evidence of loitering in the case.

Well, my impression is that perhaps you could talk about it later is that the Brown situation is certainly different from those of the others.

Samuel S. Jacobson:

Brown situation is added to round off the package of these cases because we assume that the City would contend that there were circumstances in which something like vagrancy statute and ordinance would be required through offenders or hardcore criminal and we did want to bring in instance of at least that sort of alleged situation before the Court.

Well, putting it another way I think that Brown were here alone, his posture would be much more difficult comparatively.

Samuel S. Jacobson:

I think that if Brown were here alone his case would not be nearly so appealing as the other people, some of them who suffered really blatant depression though.

I do not think however that the grossness of Brown’s character and his testimony against him would really affect the attack on the facial validity of the ordinance.


Samuel S. Jacobson:

Yes sir.

Narcotics charge was brought against him, was subsequently dismissed because in the code of proper jurisdiction for that charge it was found that the narcotics had been found by reason of an unreasonable search because it was being stopped from the occasional questioning.