Wright v. Georgia
373 U.S. 284 (1963)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wright v. Georgia, 373 U.S. 284 (1963)

Wright v. Georgia

No. 68

Argued November 7, 1962

Decided May 20, 1963

373 U.S. 284

Syllabus

Petitioners, six young Negroes, were convicted of breach of the peace for peacefully playing basketball in a public park in Savannah, Ga., customarily used only by white people and not dispersing when ordered to do so by the police. There was no evidence of disorderly conduct or of any activity which might be thought to violate a breach of the peace statute. One of the arresting officers testified that petitioners were arrested because they were Negroes. At their trial, both in a demurrer to the accusation and in motions for a new trial, petitioners contended, inter alia, that the breach of the peace statute violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it did not give adequate warning that their conduct violated it. The Georgia Supreme Court held that error in denial of the motions for a new trial could not be considered because it was not properly briefed on the appeal, and it affirmed the convictions.

Held:

1. There was no adequate state ground for the refusal by the Georgia Supreme Court to consider error in the denial of petitioners' motions for a new trial. Pp. 373 U. S. 289-291.

2. Petitioners' convictions violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 373 U. S. 291-293.

(a) The convictions cannot be sustained on the ground that failure to obey the command of a police officer constitutes a traditional form of breach of the peace. One cannot be punished for failing to obey a command which violates the Constitution, and the police officers' command violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since it was intended to enforce racial discrimination in the park. Pp. 373 U. S. 291-292.

(b) The convictions cannot be sustained on the ground that petitioners' conduct was likely to cause a breach of the peace by others, since the possibility of disorder by others cannot justify exclusion of a person from a place where he has a constitutional right to be. Pp. 373 U. S. 292-293.

(c) If petitioners were convicted because a park rule reserved the park for use by younger people at the time, the statute did not give adequate warning, as required by the Due Process Clause of

Page 373 U. S. 285

the Fourteenth Amendment, since neither the existence nor the publication of any such rule was proved. P. 373 U. S. 293.

217 Ga. 453, 122 S.E.2d 737, reversed.

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