Brief Fact Summary.
Florida law indicates that certain actions were prohibited within five hundred feet from school properties. Plaintiff, a member of a religious organization, notified the school officials that the organization as going to be handing out Bibles two weeks in advance and the day of the distribution. Members of the organization were arrested for violating the statute. Plaintiff brought suit alleging the statute is unconstitutionally vague, and Defendant motioned for summary judgment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When a criminal statute fails to provide an ordinary person with sufficient notice of the conduct that the statute prohibits or encourages arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement, the criminal statute is unconstitutionally vague.
Pursuant to Florida School Safety Zone Statute, certain actions are prohibited within five hundred feet of school property. Specifically, §2(b) one may not enter or stay in the protected zone during certain hours except if the individual had a legitimate business. Also, under §2(c), one who does not have a legitimate business cannot stay in the zone after a school official request that he or she leave the area. A school official may solely ask a person to leave the protected area if they reasonably believed that the individual was going to engage in criminal conduct or harass students. Conduct contrary to the statute is a second-degree misdemeanor. Moreover, Plaintiff, Thomas Gray, guided members of a religious group into the protected area, which was around a Key Largo School, to hand out Bibles. Pursuant to the religious organization’s rules, Plaintiff told the local police department that they planed on distributing Bible two week before they actually distributed the Bibles. Also, Plaintiff notified the school official of their plans right before the distribution began, and had a member of the organization remain on the public area across from the school while hang out Bibles. Once the distribution began, multiple members of the organization were arrested by an officer at Sheriff Richard Roth command and charged with violating the statute. At that point, Plaintiff stopped handing out Bibles. Plaintiff brought suit against State Attorney Mark and Roth on the grounds that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, and Roth motioned for summary judgment.
Whether a criminal statute is unconstitutionally vague when it fails to provide an ordinary person with sufficient notice of the conduct that the statute prohibits or encourages arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.
Yes, a criminal statute is unconstitutionally vague when it fails to provide an ordinary person with sufficient notice of the conduct that the statute prohibits or encourages arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement.
As such, the statute vests virtually complete discretion in the hands of the police to determine whether the suspect has satisfied the statute and must be permitted to go on his way in the absence of probable cause to arrest.View Full Point of Law
When a criminal statute fails to provide an ordinary person with sufficient notice of the conduct that the statute prohibits or encourages arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement, the criminal statute is unconstitutionally vague and a violation of the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause. A statute must provide ordinary persons reasonable guidance on how not to violate the statute. In this case, §2(b) places a penalty on individual’s who enter or stay in the protected area, absent a legitimate business. In the statute, the term “legitimate business” is not defined, which does not provide the ordinary person a reasonable manner to anticipate if his or her conduct is prohibited or not. Thus, §2(b) fails to provide sufficient notice and is unconstitutionally vague, violating the Due Process Clause. Likewise, Section 2(b) is unconstitutionally vague because it fails to inform law enforcement officers how to prevent arbitrary application. Nevertheless, §2(c) is valid and constitutional because an offense solely occurs after person fails to leave the protected area when a school official asks that the person to leave. Although the requirement that the school official request the individual to leave, alone, does not cure the vague statute, §2(c) specificially states that the school official must have a reasonable belief that criminal conduct or student harassment will occur. Thus, based on the statute as a whole, the statute gives guidance as to what conduct is prohibited and what is not prohibited. Therefore, §2(c) is valid and constitutional. Further, Roth’s motion for summary judgment is partially granted.