Thompson v. City of Louisville

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Thompson v. City of Louisville
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 11–12, 1960
Decided March 21, 1960
Full case nameSam Thompson v. City of Louisville, et al.
Citations362 U.S. 199 ( more )
80 S. Ct. 624; 4 L. Ed. 2d 654; 1960 U.S. LEXIS 1448; 80 A.L.R.2d 1355
On the record in this case, Thompson's conviction for loitering and disorderly conduct was so totally devoid of evidentiary support as to be invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black  · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas  · Tom C. Clark
John M. Harlan II  · William J. Brennan Jr.
Charles E. Whittaker  · Potter Stewart
Case opinion
MajorityBlack, joined unanimously
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Thompson v. City of Louisville, 362 U.S. 199 (1960), was a decision of the United States Supreme Court in which the Court unanimously held that it is a violation of due process to convict a person of an offense when there is no evidence of his guilt. It is one of the rare instances of the Supreme Court's granting certiorari to review a decision of a court so insignificant (the Police Court of Louisville, Kentucky) that state law does not provide any mechanism for appeals from its judgments. [1]

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States of America, established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. The Court holds the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution. Presidential directives can be struck down by the Court for violating either the Constitution or statutory law. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide non-justiciable political questions.

Due process is the legal requirement that the state must respect all legal rights that are owed to a person. Due process balances the power of law of the land and protects the individual person from it. When a government harms a person without following the exact course of the law, this constitutes a due process violation, which offends the rule of law.

In law, a conviction is the verdict that usually results when a court of law finds a defendant guilty of a crime. The opposite of a conviction is an acquittal. In Scotland and in the Netherlands, there can also be a verdict of "not proven", which counts as an acquittal. There are also cases in which the court orders that a defendant not be convicted, despite being found guilty; in England, Wales, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand the mechanism for this is a discharge.


The case is sometimes referred to as the "Shuffling Sam" case, because the petitioner Sam Thompson was known locally as "Shuffling Sam." [2] The Court noted, "There is no evidence that anyone else in the cafe objected to petitioner's shuffling his feet in rhythm with the music of the jukebox." [3]

Associate Justice Hugo Black delivered the opinion of the court. The case was briefed and argued for Thompson by several notable former law clerks of justices of the Court. [4]

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Member of the U.S. Supreme Court other than the Chief Justice

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is the title of all members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the chief justice of the United States. The number of associate justices is eight, as set by the Judiciary Act of 1869.

Hugo Black Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Hugo Lafayette Black was an American politician and jurist who served in the United States Senate from 1927 to 1937, and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937 to 1971. A member of the Democratic Party and a devoted New Dealer, Black endorsed Franklin D. Roosevelt in both the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections. Having gained a reputation in the Senate as a reformer, Black was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Roosevelt and confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 63 to 16. He was the first of nine Roosevelt nominees to the Court, and he outlasted all except for William O. Douglas.

In law, a legal opinion is in certain jurisdictions a written explanation by a judge or group of judges that accompanies an order or ruling in a case, laying out the rationale and legal principles for the ruling.


Arrest and proceedings in lower court

As stated in the opinion of the Supreme Court, Sam Thompson went into the Liberty End Café in Louisville on a Saturday evening. Two policemen came into the café and observed Sam "out there on the floor dancing by himself." The officers accosted Thompson and asked him what he was doing, "and he said he was waiting on a bus." The officers then arrested him for loitering, and took him outside. Thompson remonstrated – he "was very argumentative – he argued with us back and forth, and so then we placed a disorderly conduct charge on him." That was the entire record that the prosecution put on at the trial, except for a record showing a total of 54 previous arrests.

Loitering is the act of remaining in a particular public place for a protracted time, without any apparent purpose. In some jurisdictions, the definition of loitering may include indoor littering, and wearing of masks or disguises in public, such as New York.

Disorderly conduct is a crime in most jurisdictions in the United States, China, and Taiwan. Typically, "disorderly conduct" makes it a crime to be drunk in public, to "disturb the peace", or to loiter in certain areas. Many types of unruly conduct may fit the definition of disorderly conduct, as such statutes are often used as "catch-all" crimes. Police may use a disorderly conduct charge to keep the peace when people are behaving in a disruptive manner to themselves or others, but otherwise present no danger.

The Louisville city ordinance under which petitioner was convicted of loitering reads as follows:

"It shall be unlawful for any person . . . , without visible means of support, or who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself, . . . to sleep, lie, loaf, or trespass in or about any premises, building, or other structure in the City of Louisville, without first having obtained the consent of the owner or controller of said premises, structure, or building; . . ."

Thompson's counsel unsuccessfully sought dismissal of the charges on the ground that a judgment of conviction on this record would deprive Thompson of property and liberty without due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment, in that there was no evidence to support findings of guilt.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution Amendment which grants citizenship to everyone born in the US and subject to its jurisdiction and protects civil and political liberties

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Arguably one of the most consequential amendments to this day, the amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by the states of the defeated Confederacy, which were forced to ratify it in order to regain representation in Congress. The amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) regarding racial segregation, Roe v. Wade (1973) regarding abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) regarding the 2000 presidential election, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) regarding same-sex marriage. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, including those acting on behalf of such an official.

Thompson then put in evidence that he was waiting for a bus to his home that was due in an hour or less, that he was a regular customer at the café, and that he was not unwelcome in the café. There was no evidence that "anyone else in the café objected to [Sam's] shuffling his feet in rhythm with the music of the jukebox, or that his conduct was boisterous or offensive to anyone present."

Jukebox device to play music singles with

A jukebox is a partially automated music-playing device, usually a coin-operated machine, that will play a patron's selection from self-contained media. The classic jukebox has buttons, with letters and numbers on them, which, when one of each group entered after each other, are used to select a specific record.

The Police Court found Thompson guilty of both charges and fined him $10 on each charge.

Procedural issues concerning appellate review

Police court fines of less than $20 on a single charge are not appealable or otherwise reviewable in any other Kentucky court. Thompson's counsel therefore asked the police court to stay the judgments so that he might have an opportunity to apply for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the due process contentions he raised. The police court suspended judgment for 24 hours, during which time a longer stay from the Kentucky Circuit Court was sought. That court, after examining the police court's judgment and transcript, granted a stay, concluding that "there appears to be merit" in the contention that "there is no evidence upon which conviction and sentence by the Police Court could be based."

The city then sought to appeal, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals held that the Circuit Court lacked the power to grant the stay that it had granted, but the Court of Appeals sua sponte granted its own stay, because Thompson "appears to have a real question as to whether he has been denied due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, yet this substantive right cannot be tested unless we grant him a stay of execution because his fines are not appealable and will be satisfied by being served in jail before he can prepare and file his petition for certiorari. Appellee's substantive right of due process is of no avail to him unless this court grants him the ancillary right whereby he may test same in the Supreme Court." The U.S. Supreme Court then granted certiorari.

Opinion of the Court

Justice Hugo Black delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court that it violated due process to convict and punish Shuffling Sam without any evidence of his guilt Hugo Black.jpg
Justice Hugo Black delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court that it violated due process to convict and punish Shuffling Sam without any evidence of his guilt

The Supreme Court reviewed the evidentiary record and found "no evidence whatever in the record to support these convictions." It then held that it is "a violation of due process to convict and punish a man without evidence of his guilt." The Supreme Court did not state whether the state's action violated procedural or substantive due process, but it is generally considered that the Court found a violation of substantive due process. [5]

Subsequent developments

A commentator criticized the Court's opinion as "mak[ing] a deep incursion upon basic principles of federalism" by re-characterizing evidence of conduct that the Court deemed protected activity as "no evidence" of crime. [6]

According to Court Listener, this case has been cited approximately 16,000 times as of July 2015. [7]

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The citations in this article are written in Bluebook style. Please see the talk page for more information.

  1. As explained during oral argument, Kentucky provides no appellate review of Police Court cases when the fine is less than $20. The fine here was $10, but it was one of a long series of similar fines. According to counsel for Thompson, as stated in oral argument, this reflected a police vendetta against Thompson for perceived uppitiness.
  2. See Lewiston Daily Sun, High Court Backs Shufflin' Sam (March 22, 1960).
  3. 362 U.S. at 202. See also [ Morton O. Childress], Louisville Division of Police: History & Personnel, p. 61.
  4. Louis Lusky argued the cause for petitioner. He had been law clerk for United States Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone from 1937 to 1938. With him on the brief were Harold Leventhal and Eugene Gressman. Leventhal was law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Harlan F. Stone from 1937 to 1938 and Stanley F. Reed in 1938, and later a federal court of appeals judge. Gressman was law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy from 1943 to 1948, and later was co-author of a leading treatise on Supreme Court practice and procedure, Robert Stern and Eugene Gressman, Supreme Court Practice. See generally List of law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States.
  5. See Louis H. Pollak, The Supreme Court and the States: Reflections on Boynton v. Virginia, 49 Cal. L. Rev. 15 (1961).
  6. No Evidence To Support a Conviction, 110 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1137, 1146 (1962).
  7. "Search Results for 362 U.S. 199". Court Listener. Retrieved July 18, 2015.