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In re Banks

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant is challenging the North Carolina “Peeping Tom” statute as unconstitutional.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A criminal statute must be sufficiently definite to give notice of the act proscribed.

    Facts. The North Carolina “Peeping Tom” statute provides, “Any person who shall peep secretly into any room occupied by a female person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined or imprisoned in the discretion of the court.” The Defendant challenges the constitutionality of this statute, averring that it is vague because it does not inform men of common intelligence of its meaning and application.

    Issue. Is the North Carolina “Peeping Tom” statute unconstitutionally vague?

    Held. No.
    Definiteness is an essential element of due process of law. A criminal statute must be sufficiently definite to give notice of the act proscribed. The statute is presumed constitutional and must be so held unless it conflicts with some constitutional provision. Where the statute is clear and unambiguous on its face, the courts must give the statute its plain meaning.

    However, where there is an ambiguity in the statute, the Court must look to the legislative intent.

    In the present case, the North Carolina statute at issue is clear and unambiguous. The law makes it a crime to “peep secretly.” Citing precedent, the Supreme Court of North Carolina defines this phrase so that the statute can easily be read to prohibit “the wrongful spying into a room upon a female with the intent of violating the female’s legitimate expectation of privacy.” This reading is sufficient to place a person of ordinary intelligence on notice of what activity constitutes a crime. Therefore, the North Carolina “Peeping Tom” statute is sufficiently definite to give an individual fair notice of the conduct prohibited. The statute does not violate the North Carolina State Constitution or the Due Process Clause of the Federal Constitution by reason of vagueness or uncertainty.


    Discussion. In order to pass constitutional muster, a statute must inform the general public, in the simplest terms possible, of acts constituting a crime. A statute does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Constitution if it fairly alerts an individual as to what conduct is prohibited.


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