Law School Case Brief
Desertrain v. City of L.A. - 754 F.3d 1147 (9th Cir. 2014)
A statute is vague on its face when "no standard of conduct is specified at all. As a result, men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning." "Vagueness may invalidate a criminal law for either of two independent reasons. First, it may fail to provide the kind of notice that will enable ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits; second, it may authorize and even encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."
This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case concerns the constitutionality of Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 85.02, which prohibits use of a vehicle "as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise." Plaintiffs include four homeless individuals who parked their vehicles in the Venice area of Los Angeles and were cited and arrested for violating Section 85.02. Defendants are the City of Los Angeles and individual LAPD officers. Plaintiffs argue that Section 85.02 is unconstitutionally vague on its face because it provides insufficient notice of the conduct it penalizes and promotes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
Was the municipal law prohibiting the use of automobiles as living quarters vague and unconstitutional?
The Court held that Section 85.02 offers no guidance as to what conduct it prohibits, inducing precisely this type of impermissible speculation and uncertainty. It states that no person shall use a vehicle "as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise." Yet the statute does not define "living quarters," or specify how long — or when — is "otherwise." We know that under Defendants' enforcement practices sleeping in a vehicle is not required to violate Section 85.02. But there is no way to know what is required to violate Section 85.02. Because Section 85.02 fails to draw a clear line between innocent and criminal conduct, it is void for vagueness.
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