Robinson v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: Place of arrest

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 370 US 660 (1962)
ARGUED: Apr 17, 1962
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1962

Facts of the case

A California statute made it a criminal offense for a person to "be addicted to the use of narcotics." Lawrence Robinson was convicted under the law, which required a sentence of at least ninety days in jail. A state appellate court affirmed Robinson's conviction on appeal.


Was the California law an infliction of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment?

Media for Robinson v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 17, 1962 in Robinson v. California

Earl Warren:

Number 554, Lawrence Robinson, Appellant, versus California.

William E. Doran:

(Inaudible) Your Honor, the (Inaudible) Mr. Justice Harlan are in the record 2014 to 2038.

In appendix A, a petitioner's opening brief, the entire appendix A of petitioner's opening brief.

Earl Warren:

Mr. McMorris.

Samuel Carter McMorris:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The present case, Robinson versus California, is of challenge to and attack upon Section 11721 of the Health and Safety Code of the State of California essentially because we feel that it is a denial of equal protection and due process in that it punishes a status rather than an act or omission, that it punishes an involuntary status, that it punishes a status of physical and mental illness, that it is vague, indefinite and uncertain upon its face, that double jeopardy is inherent in any crime of status and certainly in this -- the present one and that this statute is unwarranted and unconstitutional infringement upon the freedom of movement, that it is ex post facto and that it imposes cruel and unusual punishment.

Now, because our case is essentially an attack upon the law itself, the most crucial fact we have before us is the nature and the content or the necessary and implicit application of this law.

However, because we have -- aside or collateral issue or a secondary issue challenge also the search and seizure aspect of this case under the rule of Memphis, Ohio, the recent decision of this Court and because we also feel that under Thompson versus City of Louisville, there is an adequate evidence to sustain the conviction or in fact no evidence at all and hence a denial of due process.

The facts of the case will begin with the arrest itself.

On a chilly or cold night in February of 1960, the present appellant was riding as a passenger in the backseat of a car accompanied by his lady friend and other party named Banks and his wife were in the front seat, Banks being the driver.

The arresting officers testified that they stopped the vehicle because of an absence of rear license plate illumination.

We feel that the facts as testified by the arresting officers, negative of their excuse for the stoppage and that they actually presented three or four different reasons.

Secondly, we said that there was a car that driving slowly upon a dark unlit street and finally that they -- that their -- the territory in question had a reputation for person action and -- interesting also that these officers were not traffic officers, though their original justification, the one accepted by the Court was a traffic stopping.

They were not traffic officers.

They're not in a traffic car.

No citation for the traffic violation was given.

Nothing was said to the -- to any party about driving too slowly, and this is admitted.

And as soon as the stopping took place, they began actually a search of the parties involved to see if they were narcotic addicts of which, they had no indication prior to the stopping of the vehicle.

So, since they were felony officers and were not traffic officers though we -- we do not question the right of any officer to make a traffic stopping or arrest.

Since they were not traffic officers and did not have anything to do with traffic and stopping the car, we suspect that we have here the typical arrest, aroused arrest for the purpose of search to find whatever they might have found.

In fact, one of the officers testified that when the driver Banks got out of the car, he shined his light about this person to find whatever he could find.

And this of course is an admission of a general ex -- search to see what evidence of any crime might have been there present.

But leave that as it may, upon the stopping, Banks left his vehicle and -- and met the officer halfway.

And at this point, although it was a cold night of February and even of course the California nights are cold generally, certain in the month of February, this -- this young man obligingly had his -- no jacket on and his shirt sleeves rolled up so the arresting officer could see a single mark upon one of his arms, the right or the left as the case may have been.

Potter Stewart:

Is that the driver or the petitioner?

Samuel Carter McMorris:

It was the driver.

Potter Stewart:

The driver, not the petitioner.

Samuel Carter McMorris:

Not the petitioner.

Based upon the seeing of this single mark, the officers made an arrest.

And then having made an arrest, they ordered the other three occupants from the car, searched the car and then searched the three other occupants.