Appellant Giaccio was indicted by a Pennsylvania grand jury and charged with two violations of a state statute which makes it a misdemeanor to wantonly point or discharge a firearm at any other person.
Appellant made timely objections to the validity of this statute on several grounds,
The State Supreme Court, again with one judge dissenting, agreed with the Superior Court and affirmed its judgment.
1. In holding that the 1860 Act was not unconstitutionally vague the State Superior and Supreme Courts rested largely on the declaration that the Act "is not a penal statute" but simply provides machinery for the collection of costs of a "civil character" analogous to imposing costs in civil cases "not as a penalty but rather as compensation to a litigant for expenses. . . ." But admission of an analogy between the collection of civil costs and collection of costs here does not go far towards settling the constitutional question before us. Whatever label be given the 1860 Act, there is no doubt that it provides the State with a procedure for depriving an acquitted defendant of his liberty and his property. Both liberty and property are specifically protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against any state deprivation which does not meet the standards of due process, and this protection is not to be avoided by the simple label a State chooses to fasten upon its conduct or its statute. So here this state Act whether labeled "penal" or not must meet the challenge that it is unconstitutionally vague.
2. It is established that a law fails to meet the requirements of the Due Process Clause if it is so vague and standardless that it leaves the public uncertain as to the conduct it prohibits or leaves judges and jurors free to
3. The State contends that even if the Act would have been void for vagueness as it was originally written, subsequent state court interpretations have provided standards and guides that cure the former constitutional deficiencies. We do not agree. All of the so-called court-created conditions and standards still leave to the jury such broad and unlimited power in imposing costs on acquitted defendants that the jurors must make determinations of the crucial issue upon their own notions of what the law should be instead of what it is. Pennsylvania decisions have from time to time said expressly, or at least implied, that juries having found a defendant not
It may possibly be that the trial court's charge comes nearer to giving a guide to the jury than those that preceded it, but it still falls short of the kind of legal standard due process requires. At best it only told the jury that if it found appellant guilty of "some misconduct" less than that charged against him, it was authorized by law to saddle him with the State's costs in its unsuccessful prosecution. It would be difficult if not impossible for a person to prepare a defense against such general abstract charges as "misconduct," or "reprehensible conduct." If used in a statute which imposed forfeitures, punishments or judgments for costs, such loose and unlimiting terms would certainly cause the statute to fail to measure up to the requirements of the Due Process Clause. And these terms are no more effective to make a statute valid which standing alone is void for vagueness.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring.
I concur in the Court's determination that the Pennsylvania statute here in question cannot be squared with the standards of the Fourteenth Amendment, but for reasons somewhat different from those upon which the Court relies. It seems to me that, despite the Court's disclaimer,
MR. JUSTICE FORTAS, concurring.
In my opinion, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit a State to impose a penalty or costs upon a defendant whom the jury has found not guilty of any offense with which he has been charged.
"In all prosecutions, cases of felony excepted, if the bill of indictment shall be returned ignoramus, the grand jury returning the same shall decide and certify on such bill whether the county or the prosecutor shall pay the costs of prosecution; and in all cases of acquittals by the petit jury on indictments for the offenses aforesaid, the jury trying the same shall determine, by their verdict, whether the county, or the prosecutor, or the defendant shall pay the costs, or whether the same shall be apportioned between the prosecutor and the defendant, and in what proportions; and the jury, grand or petit, so determining, in case they direct the prosecutor to pay the costs or any portion thereof, shall name him in their return or verdict; and whenever the jury shall determine as aforesaid, that the prosecutor or defendant shall pay the costs, the court in which the said determination shall be made shall forthwith pass sentence to that effect, and order him to be committed to the jail of the county until the costs are paid, unless he give security to pay the same within ten days."