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.

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