Giaccio v. State of Pennsylvania, No. 47

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation382 U.S. 399,86 S.Ct. 518,15 L.Ed.2d 447
Decision Date19 January 1966
Docket NumberNo. 47
PartiesJay GIACCIO, Appellant, v. STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA

382 U.S. 399
86 S.Ct. 518
15 L.Ed.2d 447
Jay GIACCIO, Appellant,

v.

STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA.

No. 47.
Argued Dec. 6, 1965.
Decided Jan. 19, 1966.

Peter Hearn, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellant.

John S. Halsted, West Chester, Pa., for appellee.

Page 400

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

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.1 In a trial before a judge and jury appellant's defense was that the firearm he had discharged was a starter pistol which only fired blanks. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on each charge, but acting pursuant to instructions of the court given under authority of a Pennsylvania statute of 1860, assessed against appellant the court costs of one of the charges (amounting to $230.95). The Act of 1860, set out below,2 provides among other things that:

'* * * in all cases of acquittals by the petit jury on indictments for (offenses other than felonies), the jury trying the same shall determine, by their verdict, whether the county, or the prosecutor, or the

Page 401

defendant shall pay the costs * * * and whenever the jury shall determine as aforesaid, that the * * * 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.'

Appellant made timely objections to the validity of this statute on several grounds,3 including an objection that the statute is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because it authorizes juries to assess costs against acquitted defendants, with a threat of imprisonment until the costs are paid, without prescribing definite standards to govern the jury's determination. The trial court held the 1860 Act void for vagueness in violation of due process, set aside the jury's verdict imposing costs on the appellant, and vacated the 'sentence imposed upon Defendant that he pay said costs forthwith or give security to pay the same within ten (10) days and to stand committed until he had complied therewith.' 4 The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, one judge dissenting, reversed the trial court closing its opinion this way:

'We can find no reason that would justify our holding it (the 1860 Act) unconstitutional.

'Order reversed, sentence reinstated.'5

The State Supreme Court, again with one judge dissenting, agreed with the Superior Court and affirmed its judg-

Page 402

ment.6 This left appellant subject to the judgment for costs and the 'sentence' to enforce payment. We noted jurisdiction to consider the question raised concerning vagueness and absence of proper standards in the 1860 Act. 381 U.S. 923, 85 S.Ct. 1558, 14 L.Ed.2d 682. We agree with the trial court and the dissenting judges in the appellate courts below that the 1860 Act is invalid under the Due Process Clause because of vagueness and the absence of any standards sufficient to enable defendants to protect themselves against arbitrary and discriminatory impositions of costs.

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...

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495 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Bowker, No. 02-4086.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • June 11, 2004
    ...Clause if it is so vague and standardless that it leaves the public uncertain as to the conduct it prohibits...." Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 402-03, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 The stalking and telephone harassment statutes charged in Bowker's indictment provide sufficient noti......
  • United States v. Stupka, No. 19-CR-3024-LTS-KEM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 13, 2019
    ...case." See Beckles v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 886, 894, 197 L.Ed.2d 145 (2017) (quoting Giaccio v. Pennsylvania , 382 U.S. 399, 402–03, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966) ). There are two types of challenges under the void-for-vagueness doctrine. First, a defendant may ar......
  • Snell v. Wyman, No. 67 Civ. 2676.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • February 29, 1968
    ...1 L.Ed.2d 1311 (1957). Viewed as a charge that the state statutes are fatally "vague and standardless," Giaccio v. State of Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 402, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966), plaintiffs' theory fares no better. To begin with, it is not the case that the public welfare off......
  • State Management Ass'n of Connecticut, Inc. v. O'Neill, No. 12978
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 11, 1987
    ...derived the void for vagueness doctrine from the constitutional Page 1282 guarantee of due process. See, e.g., Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 402-403, 86 S.Ct. 518 [520-521], 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966); Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939). See generall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
496 cases
  • U.S. v. Bowker, No. 02-4086.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • June 11, 2004
    ...Clause if it is so vague and standardless that it leaves the public uncertain as to the conduct it prohibits...." Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 402-03, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 The stalking and telephone harassment statutes charged in Bowker's indictment provide sufficient noti......
  • United States v. Stupka, No. 19-CR-3024-LTS-KEM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 13, 2019
    ...case." See Beckles v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 886, 894, 197 L.Ed.2d 145 (2017) (quoting Giaccio v. Pennsylvania , 382 U.S. 399, 402–03, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966) ). There are two types of challenges under the void-for-vagueness doctrine. First, a defendant may ar......
  • Snell v. Wyman, No. 67 Civ. 2676.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • February 29, 1968
    ...1 L.Ed.2d 1311 (1957). Viewed as a charge that the state statutes are fatally "vague and standardless," Giaccio v. State of Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 402, 86 S.Ct. 518, 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966), plaintiffs' theory fares no better. To begin with, it is not the case that the public welfare off......
  • State Management Ass'n of Connecticut, Inc. v. O'Neill, No. 12978
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 11, 1987
    ...derived the void for vagueness doctrine from the constitutional Page 1282 guarantee of due process. See, e.g., Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U.S. 399, 402-403, 86 S.Ct. 518 [520-521], 15 L.Ed.2d 447 (1966); Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939). See generall......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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