Brief Fact Summary. This matter arises from approximately 200 Florida A&M students protesting the prior arrest of several of their classmates following a civil rights demonstration.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The United States Constitution (Constitution) does not forbid a State to control the use of its own property for its own lawful, non-discriminatory purpose. The State, no less than a private owner of property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated.
The student protesters went to the entrance of the jail where their classmates where held and were informed by a deputy sheriff that they were blocking the entrance and would have to move away. The protestors moved back part of the way, where they stood or sat, singing, clapping and dancing. The jail entrance in question was not normally used by the public, but, rather, by the sheriff’s department for transporting prisoners and by commercial businesses for servicing the jail. Even after the partial retreat, the protestors continued to block vehicular passage over the driveway. Shortly thereafter, the county sheriff tried to persuade the students to leave. When this failed, he ordered them to leave and told them that if they did not leave within 10 minutes, they would be arrested. After this warning, some of the protestors left, but 107, including the Petitioners, Adderley and others (Petitioners), remained and were arrested. They were convicted of violating a Florida statute d
eclaring unlawful “every trespass upon the property of another, committed with a malicious and mischievous intent.”
Issue. Is there a First Amendment constitutional right to use the area surrounding a jail for purposes of freedom of expression?
Held. The Petitioners’ convictions under the trespass statute do not unconstitutionally deprive them of their rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly or petition.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
The rights of free speech and assembly, while fundamental in our democratic society, still do not mean that everyone with opinions or beliefs to express may address a group at any public place and at any time. View Full Point of Law
Not all public places are off limits to people with grievances. Furthermore, public places such as the county jail have, historically, been used as an outlet for protestors and demonstrators. Discussion.
The court focused on the acts of the sheriff as jail custodian. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) found that the sheriff was even-handed in his enforcement of the statute and that he did not react to the message of the protestors or disagree with their message. Furthermore, the Supreme Court seemed to be concerned with the “slippery slope” that might be created if an alternative judgment was made. The court took issue with the fact that certain groups of protestors believe that they have a constitutionally protected right to demonstrate however and wherever they choose. If the purpose of the State, as property owner, is non-discriminatory, then their actions will be protected.