Adderley v. Florida

385 U.S. 39 (1966)

Quick Summary

Harriet Louise Adderley (defendant) along with thirty-one co-defendants protested at a Florida county jail and were convicted for trespassing. They challenged their convictions as violations of their constitutional rights.

The main issue was whether this conviction infringed upon their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court affirmed their convictions, finding no constitutional violation in enforcing trespass laws on jail property not open to public protest.

Facts of the Case

Harriet Louise Adderley (defendant) and thirty-one other individuals were convicted for trespassing with malicious intent at a county jail in Leon County, Florida. The group, primarily composed of Florida A. & M. University students, had congregated at the jail to demonstrate against the incarceration of their classmates and to voice their opposition to racial segregation policies enforced by the state and local authorities.

The sheriff, responsible for the jail, ordered the protesters to vacate the premises. When they refused, he arrested them. Following their convictions in the lower court, they claimed their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. Their convictions were upheld by the Florida Supreme Court, leading to the grant of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Defendants were convicted in the County Judge’s Court of Leon County, Florida.
  2. Convictions were affirmed by the Florida Circuit Court.
  3. Florida District Court of Appeal upheld the convictions.
  4. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether the convictions of Adderley and her co-defendants for trespassing on jail property violated their constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Rule of Law

The state has the power to regulate the use of its property and to enforce laws for trespassing with a clear and specific intent. These rights are subject to lawful restrictions when exercised on property that is not traditionally open to the public for expressive activities.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court disagreed with the defendants’ argument that their case was analogously governed by prior decisions where demonstrations on public property were considered protected speech. Unlike those cases, the jail grounds were not traditional public forums, and the sheriff acted within his custodial powers in demanding that demonstrators leave jail property.

The Court found that the Florida trespass statute was precise and not overly broad or vague in its language, focusing on specific conduct—trespass with malicious and mischievous intent—thus not infringing upon constitutional rights. The defendants’ presence on jail grounds was without permission and obstructed normal operations, justifying their removal and subsequent arrests.


The United States Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, holding that the enforcement of Florida’s trespass statute in this instance did not violate the constitutional rights of Adderley and her co-defendants.

Dissenting Opinions

Justice Douglas, joined by Chief Justice, Justice Brennan, and Justice Fortas, dissented. They argued that the jail grounds should be considered a traditional place for protest as it is a seat of government authority. The dissenting opinion emphasized that peaceful assembly and petitioning for redress of grievances are fundamental rights that should not be curtailed by trespass laws when exercised at such locations.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Supreme Court ruled that jails are not traditional public forums for demonstrations, and thus the state can restrict access to such properties.
  2. Trespass laws with specific intent requirements are not necessarily unconstitutional if they do not broadly infringe upon protected constitutional rights.
  3. Peaceful assembly and petition for redress of grievances are fundamental rights but can be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, especially on non-public forums.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What legal principles govern the classification of property as a public forum where free speech is protected?

The classification of property for free speech activities is based on its traditional or designated use as a place for public expression and assembly, such as parks, streets, and sidewalks. Courts examine the government’s intent and policies regarding the property, its historical use for expressive activities, and the public’s access to the space for such purposes.

  • For example: A city park has been historically used for public gatherings and speech; thus, it would likely be considered a traditional public forum where speech is afforded high protection.

How does the state's interest in managing its property balance against an individual's right to free speech under the First Amendment?

While individuals have significant free speech rights under the First Amendment, these rights are not absolute. The state can impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech, particularly when balancing its sovereign interest in managing its property and maintaining order. Any restriction must be content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and leave open ample alternative channels for communication.

  • For example: A university may restrict protests to certain areas or times so as not to disrupt classes, which is a legitimate governmental interest in maintaining educational order.

What constitutes a trespass with intent that could limit constitutional protections of free assembly?

Trespass with intent refers to an individual’s unlawful entry onto private or restricted property with a specific wrongful purpose or intent that goes beyond mere presence. This kind of intent can undermine constitutional protections because it indicates an action at odds with reasonable regulations enforcing property rights.

  • For example: An activist enters a military facility despite clear restrictions and signs prohibiting entry; this could be construed as trespass with the specific intent to disrupt operations, which would not be protected assembly.


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