void-for-vagueness doctrine has made it unconstitutional for state or federal
governments to deny a person of life, liberty, or property unless they have
undergone due process. The reasoning behind this doctrine is because it is
unfair if a person is unaware of what a law actually forbids, and they are
charged for breaking it. If a law is really vague, without it actually stating
specifics of what defies the law, it makes it hard to apply it to a variety of
different situations. Therefore, if a person is unaware that the law forbids a
specific thing, even though the law is over-broad, and they are punished for
breaking that law, then their life, liberty, or property is taken from them
unjustly. My opinion is that this doctrine was a good decision to put in to
place, as if a law is unfairly vague, and if I were charged for something that
was not clearly defined, I would want this doctrine in place.
This doctrine is
not without Issues Involved
are a few different issues involved with the void-for-vagueness doctrine.
Firstly, how does one define which laws are “vague” and which are specific
enough, so that an individual is fairly charged. It is hard to define what is
vague for every single law; vagueness depends on each law’s specifics. Our
written out laws will never be perfect, also, because every situation is
different. We can only account for the laws already in place and for situations
we have already experienced or imagined could happen. Fair notice is also
important within this doctrine. With this, it is fair knowledge that a law is
broken if a reasonable person would be aware that they were breaking the law or
performing a criminal act.
this doctrine, one could be charged with an abundance of criminal behavior that
was not specifically “criminal” as according to the law. With this law,
specifics, or specific situations and examples, are written into the law so
there are no confusions with the individual charged, the officers, the judge,
lawyers, or the jury. If one commits an act that is reasonably criminal, but
the law is vague, then they are let off, even though their act may have been
criminally and morally wrong. This doctrine helps enforce the fact that the laws
need to be specific so that that exact situation does not take place.
void-for-vagueness doctrine protects the people against void laws that does not
outline what is illegal and from the procedures that the officers, judges, or
law enforcement performs. In the case of Lanzetta v. New Jersey (1939),
the New Jersey statute was vague when they defined what a gang was, saying it
was a group of “two or more people.” Also, the said the person could not be
“engaged in any lawful occupation,” however, these two combined, along with the
statutes’ other statements, were too vague to define a “gangster,” and fair
notice was not applied. One could not say beyond a doubt that Lanzetta and the
other members knew their activity was illegal under that statute.
a law to be so vague that one needs to guess or assume what they are doing is
criminal or not is simply unconstitutional. The void-for-vagueness doctrine
attempts to put specifics into place for laws, so that a reasonable person
would know their activity is illegal under the law, and so that an officer does
not have to use his or her own opinion and decide which activities are illegal
or not. When a law is so vague, it gives more power to law enforcement, as they
would get to decide what situations or activities to charge for and decide that
another that is similar is not illegal. To leave it up to a person’s opinion is
not what the U.S Constitution intended. The passing of a law goes through many
people to vote and agree on to protect the people of our nation, not for one to
decide when certain situations arise. That is why the Supreme Court is in
place, so that if a situation we have never dealt with arises, they can
collectively decide if something is unconstitutional.
U.S Supreme Court case, Lanzetta v. New Jersey,
306 U.S. 451 (1939), No. 308.