405 U.S. 156 (1972)

A 1972 United States Supreme Court opinion in which the Court struck down a city ordinance as unconstitutionally vague.

The case involved a Defendant who suffered from insomnia.  Due to his condition, Defendant often took long walks at night to try to relax his mind.  As he was out walking one night, Defendant was stopped by police officers.  The officers asked Defendant where he was heading.  Defendant responded, “around . . . no place in particular.”

The officers arrested Defendant under Jacksonville’s ordinance which criminalized, inter alia, “persons wandering or strolling around from place to place without any lawful purpose or object.”  Defendant challenged the ordinance as being unconstitutionally vague and the Supreme Court agreed.

The Court held that the ordinancy was void for vagueness because it “fail[ed] to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his contemplated conduct [was] forbidden by the statute.”  The Court further reasoned that the language of the ordinance encouraged arbitrary and erratic arrests and convictions, making criminal activities that by modern standars were normally innocent, and it placed almost unfettered discretion in the hands of the police.

See Also: Void-For-Vagueness Doctrine

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