City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999)

Case Name: City of Chicago v. Morales
Citation: 527 U.S. 41 (1999)

Facts: Chicago enacted the Gang Congregation Ordinance prohibiting “criminal street gang members” from “loitering” with one another in any public case.

The offense required four predicates:

  1. Police officer must reasonably believe that at least one of the people is a criminal street gang member
  2. The people must be “loitering” – defined as – “remaining in any  one place with no apparent purpose
  3. The officer must order all of the people to disperse and remove themselves from the area
  4. A person must disobey the officer’s order

Issue: Whether the ordinance violates the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment

City’s argument: The person receives adequate notice once the officer tells him to disperse. Also, crime went down when the ordinance was enacted (footnote). Police officers need discretion.

Defendant’s argument: The ordinance is so vague and it leaves the “public uncertain as to the conduct it prohibits.” (See example of drug dealing basketball players in footnote). An officer’s order cannot retroactively give adequate warning of the boundary between the permissible and the impermissible applications of the law. The ordinance has an overall lack of clarity and there are no guidelines for law enforcement as the ordinance gives them absolute discretion.

Holding: The city’s ordinance affords too much discretion to the police and too little notice to citizens.

Concurrence: Apparent purpose – needs a standard to go along with it

Dissent: Police/peace officers have always had discretion and have always performed the duty of preventing loitering (“move along” he calls it). Also, the majority underestimates the intelligence of the people of Chicago and whether or not they will know if the public perceives them as having no apparent purpose.

Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal. 3d 619 (1970)

Case Name: Keeler v. Superior Court
Citation: 2 Cal. 3d 619 (1970)

Facts: Keeler kneed his wife in the stomach to purposefully kill her fetus.

Issue: Whether the fetus, which would have been viable outside the womb, can be considered a “human being” for purposes of the California Penal Code.

Defendant’s argument: A fetus does not fall within the meaning of a “human being” when looking at legislative history. Furthermore:
1) The power to define a crime is a legislative function (the court exercised judicial enlargement which is a violation of the separation of powers), and
2) Due Process requires a fair warning and the government cannot enact an ex post facto law
– It is “unforeseeable” to consider a fetus a human being

State’s argument: The fetus was viable outside of the womb and should be considered a “human being” and it is within the judicial interpretation power to state this.

Holding: The judicial enlargement of the criminal statute was not foreseeable by the defendant and “its adoption at this time would deny him due process of law.” We require more specificity when you are at risk of losing your personal liberty.

Dissent: We should interpret the term “human being” with today’s medical science. The legislature used a broad term, “human being,” (as opposed to “one who has been born alive”). Also, the fact that California courts have not had this same question does not render the judgment “unforeseeable.”


McBoyle v. United States, 283 U.S. 25 (1931)

Case Name: McBoyle v. United States
Citation: 283 U.S. 25 (1931)

Facts: McBoyle was convicted of knowingly transporting a stolen aircraft in interstate commerce.

Issue: Whether the term “vehicle” in the NMVTA applies to aircraft.

Defendant’s argument: The definition of “vehicle” in the act specifies many land vehicles but does not mention anything about aircraft. There is nothing in the legislative history that mentioned aircraft.

State’s argument: The definition includes “any other self-propelled vehicle not designed for running on rails.” An aircraft meets this definition.

Court’s reasoning: Although a criminal is not likely to carefully consider the text of the law before committing a crime, the law should give reasonable fair warning (notice) and be written in language that the common world will understand. In everyday speech, the term “vehicle” conjures up the “picture of a thing moving on land.” Also, the definitions only list motor vehicles that move on land.

Judgment: Reversed.

Commonwealth v. Mochan, 177 Pa. Super. 454 (1955)

Case Name: Commonwealth v. Mochan
Citation: 177 Pa. Super. 454 (1955)

Facts: Mochan was indicted for making numerous harassing phone calls to a woman. He was convicted of a misdemeanor under common law because his act was not a criminal offense under any Pennsylvania statute.

Issue: Whether the court can convict a defendant under common law when his actions did not constitute a criminal offense under state statute.

Defendant’s argument: nulla poena sine lege – no punishment without law. The defendant argues that he cannot be convicted of an action that is not illegal.

State’s argument: The state’s common law is sufficiently broad to allow a court to act and declares that “whatever openly outrages decency and is injurious to public morals is a misdemeanor at common law.” The defendant’s actions fit this criterion; therefore, the court can charge and convict him of a misdemeanor.

Court’s reasoning: The question is whether the alleged crimes could have been prosecuted and punished under common law. Because the controlling principles are broad, “[a]ny act is indictable at common law which from its nature scandalously affects the morals or health of the community…”

Holding: The charges correctly identified the offense as a common law misdemeanor.

Dissent: This allows the courts to supersede the legislature’s power. Although common law is part of the state’s law, our country has had 200 years of the legislative branch determining which actions require punishment. This is a slippery slope as “there is nothing to prevent our invasion of the legislative field except our own self restraint.”

United States v. Gementera, 379 F.3d 596 (2004)

Case Name: United States v. Gementera
Citation: 379 F.3d 596 (2004)

Facts: Gementera stole mail and plead guilty to mail theft. He had a long criminal history for a twenty-four year old. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines recommended a two to eight month incarceration. The judge sentencedGementera to two months incarceration and three years supervised release. One of the conditions of the release was 100 hours of community service that would consist of standing in front of a post office with a sandwich board that state “I stole mail. This is my punishment.” After another hearing, other options were added for the community service (i.e. writing apology letters and speaking at local schools) and the sandwich board activity was diminished to one day of eight hours.

Issue: Whether a punishment that shames or humiliates serves a legitimate objective and is reasonably related to the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.

Defendant’s argument: The punishment was meant for the impermissible purpose of humiliation; in violation of a federal statute. Also, that the humiliation was not “reasonably related” to rehabilitation.

State’s argument: The humiliation was not an “ends” in itself but a “means” to the legitimate objective for the defendant to understand the seriousness of his crime (that it was not a victimless crime). It is also reasonably related to offense and the history of the defendant.

Court’s reasoning: The district court seemed to think that the defendant did not understand the seriousness of his crime. There is still academic debate whether “shaming” works to rehabilitate the criminal and prevent others from committing a crime as opposed to recidivism.  The district court did not have to display scientific evidence that this type of punishment was effective.

Holding: The condition was reasonably related to the statutory objective of rehabilitation.

Dissent: The sandwich board condition violates the Sentencing Reform Act. Furthermore, this “shaming” goes to dehumanize the defendant not rehabilitate. Affirming the condition “recalls a time in our history when pillories and stocks were the order of the day.”


Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, 14 Q.B.D. 273 (1884)

Case Name: Regina v. Dudley and Stephens
Citation: 14 Q.B.D. 273 (1884) Queens Branch Division

Facts: Four seamen were stranded on an open boat (life boat) at sea. After twenty days, two of the seamen killed the youngest (17 or 18 years old) to use his body for food. Four days later the three men were rescued. The jury found the facts but entered a special verdict seeking the advice of the Court whether or not this constituted murder.

Issue: Whether the extreme circumstances of the seamen provided them with a legal justification (necessity) for murder.

Defendant’s argument: They were in extreme circumstances and if they did not kill the boy, none of them would have lived. The boy was the weakest and would probably have died anyways. It was better for one to die so that three may live as opposed to all four dying. Necessity is a justification for murder.

State’s argument: The only acceptable taking the life of another is in “self-defence” when the assailant is seeking to kill another. Here, the boy was not the aggressor and did not do anything worthy of death.

Court’s reasoning: The two men should not have made the decision to kill another and the judge is sure not to condone this because of the dangerous precedent it would set when situations like this arise. “[i]t is quite plain that such a principle once admitted might be made the legal cloak for unbridled passion and atrocious crime.” He talks about the morals of laying down one’s life for another (both found in heathen and Christian texts).

Holding: Although the temptation was great (and even he might not be able to resist it) does not give a man the right to declare temptation to be an excuse. “It is therefore our duty to declare that the prisoners’ act in this case was willful murder” and there was not a “legal justification of the homicide.”

Judgment: The two men received the death penalty (which was later commuted by the Crown to six months imprisonment).

People v. Zackowitz, 254 NY 192 (1930)

Case Name: People v. Zackowitz
Citation: 254 NY 192 (1930)

Facts: Zackowitz, the defendant, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death after killing a young man, Coppola. The incident occurred after Coppola and three other young men said insulting words to the defendant’s wife. The defendant’s wife informed Zackowitz after the incident when the two of them were at home. Enraged Zackowitz went back to the men, exchanged words, and shot one of the men, Coppola, with a pistol. The state brought in evidence about three pistols and a teargas gun (none of which were used in the shooting) to show that Zackowitz was “a desperate type of criminal” and a “person criminally inclined.”

Issue: Whether the evidence regarding the defendant’s three pistols and teargas gun were properly admitted.

State’s argument: The evidence was brought to show the defendant’s killing was deliberate and premeditated (first-degree murder) due to the inference that he was “a desperate type of criminal” and a “person criminally inclined.”

Defendant’s argument: The evidence shows a murderous propensity which is character evidence. Under the rules of evidence, character evidence cannot be introduced unless the defendant first makes it an issue.

Reasoning: The evidence was improperly admitted as character evidence which cannot be introduced unless the defendant first makes it an issue. This is to prevent prejudice of the defendant by the jury. Not to mention, the evidence might not even have been relevant.

Judgment: The conviction was reversed and a new trial ordered.

In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970)

Case Name: In Re Winship
Citation: 397 U.S. 358 (1970)

Facts: A juvenile court found by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed larceny.

Issue: Whether the preponderance of the evidence standard applied in the juvenile court was constitutionally permissible in a criminal case.

State’s argument: The defendant’s crime was “petty” and his punishment was only that he was to be confined for one and a half years at a “training school.” The requirement of a reasonable doubt standard in lower crimes would burden district attorneys who already have an overly burdensome caseload.

Defendant’s argument: The requirement that a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt dates back to our early years as a Nation. The Due Process Clause implicitly requires this standard and lowers the risk of innocent individuals being convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Holding: The Due Process Clause requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt in this case.

Reasoning: The reasonable doubt standard is “a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error.” The standard is indispensable to the respect and confidence of the community in how criminal law is applied because every individual has confidence that his government will not “adjudge him guilty of a criminal offense without convincing a proper factfinder of his guilt with utmost certainty.”

Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968)

Facts: Duncan was convicted of simple battery (a misdemeanor) and was sentenced to serve 60 days in the parish prison and pay a fine of $150. Duncan sought a jury trial but was denied because the Louisiana Constitution grants jury trials only in cases in which capital punishment or imprisonment at hard labor may be imposed.

Defendant’s Argument: A trial by jury is “fundamental to the American scheme of justice” and protects against arbitrary rule, which is one of the major themes in our country’s settlement.

State’s Argument: If a right to a jury trial is granted in every criminal case, the state’s resources will be exhausted. Also, it is not wise to allow “laymen” to determine the facts because they are untrained. Furthermore, if the court holds that the 14th Amendment assures a right to a jury trial, it will “cast doubt on the integrity of every trial conducted without a jury.”

Judgment: Reversed and remanded.

Court’s Reasoning: The right to a jury trial in a criminal case is fundamental and present in the 6th Amendment. The 14th Amendment should incorporate this right because it is so “fundamental to the American scheme of justice.”

Dissent: The right to a jury trial varies from state to state. The state should be allowed to govern its own citizens and if its own citizens want the right to a jury in all criminal cases, they can seek it through the political process.