Vagueness Principles

34 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2016

See all articles by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law; Prosecutors and Politics Project

Date Written: September 12, 2016


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.

Keywords: void for vagueness, due process, prosecutorial discretion, notice, arbitrary enforcement, vagueness doctrine

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, Vagueness Principles (September 12, 2016). Arizona State Law Journal, Vol. 50, 2017 Forthcoming, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2837743, Available at SSRN:

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

Prosecutors and Politics Project ( email )

University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
United States

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