Vagueness Principles

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Carissa Byrne Hessick

Courts have construed the right to due process to prohibit vague criminal statutes. Vague statutes fail to give sufficient notice, lead to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and represent an unwarranted delegation to law enforcement. But these concerns are hardly limited to prosecutions under vague statutes. The modern expansion of criminal codes and broad deference to prosecutorial discretion imperil the same principles that the vagueness doctrine was designed to protect. As this Essay explains, there is no reason to limit the protection of these principles to vague statutes. Courts should instead revisit current doctrines which regularly permit insufficient notice, arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and unwarranted delegations in the enforcement of non-vague criminal laws.

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