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Adderley v. Florida


Because the state was considered the private owner of the county jail, and because of the large number of petitioners, the Supreme Court deemed it relevant to agree with the charge of trespassing with malicious and mischievous intent that was bestowed by the lower courts. This ruling raised the question of how much power the "custodian" of a public property can wield without suppressing the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights held by a group or an individual.

One of the defining features of the 1960s was civil unrest. The United States was a country torn apart by opposing sentiments of the war in Vietnam and by the laws and mores of racial segregation. During this time of protest rallies, demonstrations, and marches, the privileges set forth by the First Amendment were stretched to the limit, not only by demonstrators, but by the officers assigned to protect and enforce these rights.

In 1966 a group of Florida A&M University (FAMU) students demonstrated against the racial segregation of a local movie theater. These protesters were arrested, and what followed established the foundation of what became known as the Adderley v. Florida case.

On the day following this incident, approximately 200 FAMU students, Harriett Louise Adderley among them, marched from the university to the Leon County jail to protest the arrest of their fellow students as well as state and local policies of racial segregation. This protest was in the form hand clapping and singing songs concerned with freedom; no placards were used.

Initially the group took position within feet of the first step to the entrance of the jail. A deputy sheriff, fearing that they might enter, asked the group to move back from the door. The entire gathering did as requested, subsequently blocking the jail driveway and congregating partially on a grassy area of the jail's property. It is important to note that this particular entrance and driveway were primarily used by the sheriff's department for the transportation of prisoners and by commercial vehicles--not by the public.

At this point someone called the sheriff, who was away from the jail on business. Upon his return, the sheriff immediately determined the safety status of the jail, then opened conversation with the leaders of the protest (known only as Mr. White and Mr. Blue). He informed them they were trespassing and that he would give the group ten minutes to leave or he would begin arresting them. Neither leader attempted to disperse the crowd; however, one of them told the sheriff that they had every intention of being arrested.

After the allotted ten minutes had passed, the sheriff informed the protesters that he was the legal custodian of the jail property and that they were trespassing. He continued by stating that if they did not leave immediately he would arrest them. Some members of the group left, while others remained; some even sat down. At no time did the sheriff ever take exception to the songs and speech of the group. After waiting for up to four minutes (all participants were unclear concerning the time period), the sheriff ordered the arrest of the remaining 107 demonstrators. The petitioners (32 of the 107 demonstrators) were found guilty of trespassing under a Florida trespass statute that prohibited trespassing with "malicious or mischievous intent."

The petitioners contended that the conviction deprived them of their rights to free speech, petition, assembly, due process of law, and protection of the laws as stated in the Fourteenth Amendment. They backed their argument with references to Edwards v. South Carolina (1963) and Cox v. Louisiana (1965). The Edwards case contained many similarities to Adderley v. Florida in that it also dealt with a large number of people on public property demonstrating against segregation and singing. The similarities end there, however; in Edwards, the demonstrators were on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol with permission of state officials--not in an area that is infrequently used by the public, such as a jail. The demonstrators in the Edwards case were charged with breach of peace, a law that was subsequently proven to be so indefinite and broad that it was invalidated. The Cox case benefited from the same outcome.

The petitioners also insisted that the trespass law was void due to vagueness and that there were few solid pieces of evidence to back up the account as presented by the sheriff and his officers. After being processed by the Florida Circuit Court and then by the Florida District Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court would decide if the rights of the plaintiffs had been violated.

The Supreme Court considered the case and determined that there was ample evidence supplied for the arrest and that the rights of the petitioners had not been violated. However, the means in which this was determined made this quite a unique case: it all hinged on the use of the Florida trespass statute.

This statute dealt with a particular type of conduct--trespassing with malicious and/or mischievous intent. Indeed, the petitioners did not argue with the definitions set forth by the trial court to the jury: The word

malicious means that the wrongful act shall be done voluntarily, unlawfully and without excuse or justification . . . Mischievous . . . means that the alleged trespass shall be inclined to cause petty and trivial trouble, annoyance and vexation to others . . .

In this case it was quite simple to prove that, according to the definition, a mischievous act was taking place. The fact that one of the protestors informed the sheriff of a desire to be arrested was all the evidence that the Court needed to prove mischievous intent. With this, the Court was able to find the petitioners guilty of trespassing.

Because the acts of the sheriff were based upon the situation of trespass rather than the speech and songs of the demonstrators, the Supreme Court deemed that the petitioners' rights to freedom of speech, assembly, press, and petition were not violated. Because of this, the invocations of Edwards v. South Carolina and Cox v. Louisiana were considered irrelevant.

A controversy arose concerning the unique use of the Florida trespass statute to protect the jail. In effect, people were being convicted of trespassing on public property. The Supreme Court determined that a state has the right to control the use of its own property and that the state, Florida in this case, is no less than the private owner of the jail and its property. According to the Supreme Court, nothing in the U.S. Constitution prevents a state's fair enforcement of its own criminal trespass statute against anyone refusing to obey the sheriff's order. The jail differed from a park or state capitol grounds in that it was an edifice built for security purposes, not for public use.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Adderley v. Florida - Significance, Impact, Further Readings