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Law School Case Brief

Brown v. Texas - 443 U.S. 47, 99 S. Ct. 2637 (1979)


The reasonableness of seizures that are less intrusive than a traditional arrest depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers. Consideration of the constitutionality of such seizures involves a weighing of the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty. 


Two police officers, while cruising near noon in a patrol car, observed two men walking away from one another in an alley in an area with a high incidence of drug traffic. They stopped and asked one of the men, defendant Brown, to identify himself and explain what he was doing. One officer testified that he stopped Brown because the situation "looked suspicious and we had never seen that subject in that area before." The officers did not claim to suspect Brown of any specific misconduct, nor did they have any reason to believe that he was armed. When Brown refused to identify himself, he was arrested for violation of a Texas statute which made it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer "who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information." After being convicted in Texas municipal court, Brown exercised his right under Texas law to a trial de novo in the County Court at Law Number Two, El Paso County, Texas, where he moved to set aside the information against him on the ground that the Texas law violated the FirstFourth, and Fifth Amendments and was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Brown's motion was denied, and he was convicted and fined $ 45 for violating the statute. The conviction was appealed.


Did the Texas law violate the Fourth Amendment?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the county court's judgment, holding that the statute that required Brown to identify himself violated the Fourth Amendment because it required no basis for suspecting Brown of any misconduct. The Court further held that the Texas statute, as applied to Brown, violated the Fourth Amendment. When the officers detained Brown to obtain his name and address, they performed a seizure of his person subject to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment. However, the officers lacked any reasonable suspicion, based on objective facts, to believe that he was engaged or had engaged in criminal conduct. Thus, the risk of arbitrary and abusive police practices exceeded the tolerable limits.


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