VIRGINIA v. HICKS
Decided June 16, 2003
The issue presented in this case is whether the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority's trespass policy is facially invalid under the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine.
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) owns and operates a housing development for low-income residents called Whitcomb Court. Until June 23, 1997, the city of Richmond owned the streets within Whitcomb Court. The city council decided, however, to "privatize" these streets in an effort to combat rampant crime and drug dealing in Whitcomb Court--much of it committed and conducted by nonresidents. The council enacted Ordinance No. 97-181-197, which provided, in part:
" '§1. That Carmine Street, Bethel Street, Ambrose Street, Deforrest Street, the 2100-2300 Block of Sussex Street and the 2700-2800 Block of Magnolia Street, in Whitcomb Court . . . be and are hereby closed to public use and travel and abandoned as streets of the City of Richmond.' "
The city then conveyed these streets by a recorded deed to the RRHA (which is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia). This deed required the RRHA to " 'give the appearance that the closed street, particularly at the entrances, are no longer public streets and that they are in fact private streets.' " To this end, the RRHA posted red-and-white signs on each apartment building--and every 100 feet along the streets--of Whitcomb Court, which state: " 'NO TRESPASSING[.] PRIVATE PROPERTY[.] YOU ARE NOW ENTERING PRIVATE PROPERTY AND STREETS OWNED BY RRHA. UNAUTHORIZED PERSONS WILL BE SUBJECT TO ARREST AND PROSECUTION. UNAUTHORIZED VEHICLES WILL BE TOWED AT OWNERS EXPENSE.' " The RRHA also enacted a policy authorizing the Richmond police
" 'to serve notice, either orally or in writing, to any person who is found on Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority property when such person is not a resident, employee, or such person cannot demonstrate a legitimate business or social purpose for being on the premises. Such notice shall forbid the person from returning to the property. Finally, Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority authorizes Richmond Police Department officers to arrest any person for trespassing after such person, having been duly notified, either stays upon or returns to Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority property.' "
Persons who trespass after being notified not to return are subject to prosecution under Va. Code Ann. §18.2-119 (1996):
"If any person without authority of law goes upon or remains upon the lands, buildings or premises of another, or any portion or area thereof, after having been forbidden to do so, either orally or in writing, by the owner, lessee, custodian or other person lawfully in charge thereof . . . he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor."
Respondent Kevin Hicks, a nonresident of Whitcomb Court, has been convicted on two prior occasions of trespassing there and once of damaging property there. Those convictions are not at issue in this case. While the property-damage charge was pending, the RRHA gave Hicks written notice barring him from Whitcomb Court, and Hicks signed this notice in the presence of a police officer.Twice after receiving this notice Hicks asked for permission to return; twice the Whitcomb Court housing manager said "no." That did not stop Hicks; in January 1999 he again trespassed at Whitcomb Court and was arrested and convicted under §18.2-119.
At trial, Hicks maintained that the
RRHA's policy limiting access to Whitcomb Court was both
unconstitutionally overbroad and void for vagueness....
Hicks does not contend that he was engaged in constitutionally protected conduct when arrested; nor does he challenge the validity of the trespass statute under which he was convicted. Instead he claims that the RRHA policy barring him from Whitcomb Court is overbroad under the First Amendment, and cannot be applied to him--or anyone else. The First Amendment doctrine of overbreadth is an exception to our normal rule regarding the standards for facial challenges. The showing that a law punishes a "substantial" amount of protected free speech, "judged in relation to the statute's plainly legitimate sweep," Broadrick v. Oklahoma (1973), suffices to invalidate all enforcement of that law, "until and unless a limiting construction or partial invalidation so narrows it as to remove the seeming threat or deterrence to constitutionally protected expression."
We have provided this expansive remedy out of concern that the threat of enforcement of an overbroad law may deter or "chill" constitutionally protected speech--especially when the overbroad statute imposes criminal sanctions. Many persons, rather than undertake the considerable burden (and sometimes risk) of vindicating their rights through case-by-case litigation, will choose simply to abstain from protected speech--harming not only themselves but society as a whole, which is deprived of an uninhibited marketplace of ideas. Overbreadth adjudication, by suspending all enforcement of an overinclusive law, reduces these social costs caused by the withholding of protected speech.
As we noted in Broadrick, however, there comes a point at which the chilling effect of an overbroad law, significant though it may be, cannot justify prohibiting all enforcement of that law--particularly a law that reflects "legitimate state interests in maintaining comprehensive controls over harmful, constitutionally unprotected conduct." For there are substantial social costs created by the overbreadth doctrine when it blocks application of a law to constitutionally unprotected speech, or especially to constitutionally unprotected conduct. To ensure that these costs do not swallow the social benefits of declaring a law "overbroad," we have insisted that a law's application to protected speech be "substantial," not only in an absolute sense, but also relative to the scope of the law's plainly legitimate applications before applying the "strong medicine" of overbreadth invalidation.
Petitioner asks this Court to impose restrictions on "the use of overbreadth standing," limiting the availability of facial overbreadth challenges to those whose own conduct involved some sort of expressive activity. The United States as amicus curiae makes the same proposal and urges that Hicks' facial challenge to the RRHA trespass policy "should not have been entertained." The problem with these proposals is that we are reviewing here the decision of a State Supreme Court; our standing rules limit only the federal courts' jurisdiction over certain claims. "[S]tate courts are not bound by the limitations of a case or controversy or other federal rules of justiciability even when they address issues of federal law." Whether Virginia's courts should have entertained this overbreadth challenge is entirely a matter of state law.
This Court may, however, review the Virginia Supreme Court's holding that the RRHA policy violates the First Amendment. We may examine, in particular, whether the claimed overbreadth in the RRHA policy is sufficiently "substantial" to produce facial invalidity. These questions involve not standing, but "the determination of [a] First Amendment challenge on the merits."
The Virginia Supreme Court found that the RRHA policy allowed Gloria S. Rogers, the manager of Whitcomb Court, to exercise "unfettered discretion" in determining who may use the RRHA's property. Specifically, the court faulted an "unwritten" rule that persons wishing to hand out flyers on the sidewalks of Whitcomb Court need to obtain Rogers' permission. This unwritten portion of the RRHA policy, the court concluded, unconstitutionally allows Rogers to "prohibit speech that she finds personally distasteful or offensive."
Hicks, of course, was not arrested for leafleting or demonstrating without permission. He violated the RRHA's written rule that persons who receive a barment notice must not return to RRHA property. The Virginia Supreme Court, based on its objection to the "unwritten" requirement that demonstrators and leafleters obtain advance permission, declared the entire RRHA trespass policy overbroad and void--including the written rule that those who return after receiving a barment notice are subject to arrest. The Virginia Supreme Court...could not properly decree that they fall by reason of the overbreadth doctrine, however, unless the trespass policy, taken as a whole, is substantially overbroad judged in relation to its plainly legitimate sweep. The overbreadth claimant bears the burden of demonstrating, "from the text of [the law] and from actual fact," that substantial overbreadth exists.
Hicks has not made such a showing with regard to the RRHA policy taken as a whole--even assuming, arguendo, the unlawfulness of the policy's "unwritten" rule that demonstrating and leafleting at Whitcomb Court require permission from Gloria Rogers. Consider the "no-return" notice served on nonresidents who have no "legitimate business or social purpose" in Whitcomb Court: Hicks has failed to demonstrate that this notice would even be given to anyone engaged in constitutionally protected speech. Gloria Rogers testified that leafleting and demonstrations are permitted at Whitcomb Court, so long as permission is obtained in advance. Thus, "legitimate business or social purpose" evidently includes leafleting and demonstrating; otherwise, Rogers would lack authority to permit those activities on RRHA property. Hicks has failed to demonstrate that any First Amendment activity falls outside the "legitimate business or social purpose[s]" that permit entry. As far as appears, until one receives a barment notice, entering for a First Amendment purpose is not a trespass....
Neither the basis for the barment sanction (the prior trespass) nor its purpose (preventing future trespasses) has anything to do with the First Amendment. Punishing its violation by a person who wishes to engage in free speech no more implicates the First Amendment than would the punishment of a person who has (pursuant to lawful regulation) been banned from a public park after vandalizing it, and who ignores the ban in order to take part in a political demonstration. Here, as there, it is Hicks' nonexpressive conduct--his entry in violation of the notice-barment rule--not his speech, for which he is punished as a trespasser.
Most importantly, both the notice-barment
rule and the "legitimate business or social purpose" rule apply to all
persons who enter the streets of Whitcomb Court, not just to those who
seek to engage in expression. The rules apply to strollers, loiterers,
drug dealers, roller skaters, bird watchers, soccer players, and others
not engaged in constitutionally protected conduct--a group that would
seemingly far outnumber First Amendment speakers. Even assuming
invalidity of the "unwritten" rule that requires leafleters and
demonstrators to obtain advance permission from Gloria Rogers, Hicks
has not shown, based on the record in this case, that the RRHA trespass
policy as a whole prohibits a "substantial" amount of protected speech
in relation to its many legitimate applications. That is not
surprising, since the overbreadth doctrine's concern with "chilling"
protected speech "attenuates as the otherwise unprotected behavior that
it forbids the State to sanction moves from 'pure speech' toward
conduct." Rarely, if ever, will an overbreadth challenge
succeed against a law or regulation that is not specifically addressed
to speech or to conduct necessarily associated with speech (such as
picketing or demonstrating). Applications of the RRHA policy that
violate the First Amendment can still be remedied through as-applied
litigation, but the Virginia Supreme Court should not have used the
"strong medicine" of overbreadth to invalidate the entire RRHA trespass