The Court was called upon to consider the constitutionality of a number of instances, ruled on jointly, in which defendants were questioned "while in custody or otherwise deprived of [their] freedom in any significant way." In Vignera v. New York, the petitioner was questioned by police, made oral admissions, and signed an inculpatory statement all without being notified of his right to counsel.
In 1984, in front of the Dallas City Hall, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag as a means of protest against Reagan administration policies. Johnson was tried and convicted under a Texas law outlawing flag desecration. He was sentenced to one year in jail and assessed a $2,000 fine. After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction, the case went to the Supreme Court.