Unit 5: Legality Applications


  • Papachristou (CP)

  • Morales (CP)

  • Abdullah (CP)


In City of Chicago v. Morales, the Supreme Court held that a criminal statute may be invalidated for vagueness under the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for (1) failing to provide the kind of notice that would enable ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits, and (2) authorizing or encouraging arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. Morales also specified that a legislature must establish minimal guidelines for law enforcement practices.

The vagueness limitations of Morales apply to: (1) statutes that require a person to conform conduct to an imprecise standard; and (2) statutes that do not specify a standard of conduct at all.

In thinking through the tension between due process concerns and law enforcement needs, consider the relationship between legality applications and the act requirement for the law of attempt, which we will cover in Unit 23.

Questions for Review:

Q1. St. Louis County has an ordinance prohibiting vagrancy, which is defined in relevant part as covering “every person without any visible means of support who may be found loitering around houses of ill-fame,
gambling houses or places where liquor is sold or drunk.” Would this statute be upheld as constitutional under Papachristou? What about the section prohibiting vagrants defined as “every person who shall be engaged in any unlawful calling”?

Q2. Suppose a harassment statute prohibits “knowingly mak[ing] repeated unwanted communication to another person.” Should this be invalidated as being unconstitutionally vague and overbroad? Make an argument. See Missouri v. Vaughn, 366 S.W.3d 513 (Missouri 2012) (en banc).

Q3. Suppose a defendant is charged under a harassment statute punishing a person who “[w]ithout good cause engages in any…act with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person” and “cause[s] such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person’s response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person.” The defendant repeatedly called his ex-girlfriend, asking her to get back together with him, and she claims that it caused her emotional distress, since it was hard for her to move on with her life. She repeatedly told him that she was dating someone new, but he continued to call her and leave messages for her multiple times a day. If you were the defense attorney, how would you argue that this statute is unconstitutionally vague? If you were the prosecutor, how would you argue that the statute should be upheld? Again, see Missouri v. Vaughn, 366 S.W.3d 513 (Mo. 2012) (en banc).