Case Overview

Legal Principle at Issue

Whether a Chicago, Ill,, "gang loitering" ordinance which prohibits individuals police reasonably believe to be members of a "criminal street gang" from loitering in public with one or more persons is unconstitutionally vague.


Affirmed (includes modified). Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.


Concerned about an increase in street crime, the City of Chicago conducted hearings about gang-related crime in 1992. These hearings resulted in a "gang loitering" ordinance which prohibits people police "reasonably believe" to be gang members from "loitering in any public place with one or more persons." The city arrested over 43,000 people under the law until an appeals court struck it down on First Amendment grounds in 1995, finding that the law "violates the freedom of association, assembly and expression secured by the First Amendment" and a similar provision in the Illinois Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court also ruled the law unconstitutional, though it struck the law down on due-process, rather than First Amendment, grounds. More than 70 defendants convicted under the ordinance appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A law must provide adequate notice of proscribable conduct and not grant unfettered discretion to the police. A law must establish sufficient standards for the police and public — or it can be ruled unconstitutionally vague. The freedom to loiter for innocent purposes is a liberty interest protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Importance of Case

The "gang loitering" ordinance violates the due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because it fails to provide adequate notice of what conduct is illegal. The ordinance also fails constitutional review because it leaves unfettered discretion in the hands of law enforcement officers. The court decided the case on vagueness due-process grounds. The court ruled the case did not implicate First Amendment rights.

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