Lawson sought to declare a California statute unconstitutional that required him to produce identification any time an officer asked.
A statute remains constitutional if: (1) the statute is enforced fairly and (2) if citizens are given fair notice of the behavior required by the statute.
Lawson was arrested fifteen times under a statute that required loiterers to produce identification for any police officer who requested his identification. After only being convicted once, Lawson brought his conviction to district court to declare the statute unconstitutional. The district court granted the statute unconstitutional and the court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Whether it is constitutional for individuals to produce identification when asked to do so at the request of an officer?
No. The statute is unconstitutional because it is overbroad. The statute cannot be constitutional because it does not adequately describe what a person must do in order to be a suspect under the law. A statute becomes vague and therefore unconstitutional when individuals do not know what conduct is prohibited and can be charged for conduct that they did not know was prohibited. The judgment against Lawson is vacated.
(White, J.) A statute is only vague if it remains vague in every possible interpretation of the statute. If particular conduct can be prohibited under the statute, then the statute is no longer vague. The type of conduct that the average individual knows would fall within the parameters of the statute are constitutional, while any ambiguities in conduct remain vague and therefore unconstitutional.
(Brennan, J.) The actions that police officers are allowed to take under this statute are unconstitutional against the fourth amendment protections against search and seizure. In order to constitutionally exercise the search and seizure of a citizen, a police officer must have probable cause. The statute would be unconstitutional regardless of whether it was clear because it would allow officers to unconstitutionally seize citizens at their discretion.
The statute in this case requires individuals to produce identification at the request of police officers if the individuals seem “suspicious.” The statute is vague in this regard because it does not describe the conduct that the police officer must be suspicious of in order to request the production of identification.