Feiner v. New York

340 U.S. 315, 71 S. Ct. 303, 95 L. Ed. 295, 1951 U.S. LEXIS 2249



When clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic upon the public streets, or other immediate threat to public safety, peace, or order, appears, the power of the State to prevent or punish is obvious.


A complaint was called into the police regarding a meeting on the streets where Petitioner  was addressing a crowd through a loud-speaker system attached to an automobile. He was encouraging his listeners to attend a meeting to be held that night in a hotel, but was also making derogatory remarks concerning President Truman and other political officials. Although the officers had no intention of arresting the speaker initially, the crowd started getting rowdy and many people asked the police officers on the scene to handle the crowd, so they “stepped in to prevent it from resulting in a fight.” One police officer asked the Petitioner to get down off the box but he would not. He asked him to stop talking twice; Petitioner kept speaking. The crowd was pressing closer around Petitioner and the officer, so the officer arrested him, after he had been speaking for over a half hour and had asked Petitioner to get down off the box three times over a space of four or five minutes. He was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, “by ignoring and refusing to heed and obey reasonable police orders issued…to control said crowd and to prevent a breach or breaches of the peace and to prevent injury to pedestrians.”


Did the officers use their discretionary power to prevent a breach of the peace correctly?




The Court affirmed the exercise of the police officers’ proper discretionary power to prevent a breach of the peace. It found the officers were not arresting Petitioner for the content or the making of his speech, but that they were motivated solely by a proper concern for the preservation of order and protection of the general welfare.

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