Lanzetta v. State New Jersey, No. 308

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBUTLER
Citation306 U.S. 451,83 L.Ed. 888,59 S.Ct. 618
Docket NumberNo. 308
Decision Date27 March 1939
PartiesLANZETTA et al. v. STATE of NEW JERSEY

306 U.S. 451
59 S.Ct. 618
83 L.Ed. 888
LANZETTA et al.

v.

STATE of NEW JERSEY.

No. 308.
Argued Jan. 9, 1939.
Decided March 27, 1939.

Messrs. Samuel Kagle and Harry A. Mackey, both of Philadelphia, Pa., for appellants.

Messrs. Robert Peacock, of Mount Holly, N.J., and French B. Loveland, of Ocean City, N.J., for appellee.

Page 452

Mr. Justice BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

By this appeal we are called on to decide whether, by reason of vagueness and uncertainty, a recent enactment of New Jersey, § 4, R.S.N.J.1937, 2:136—4, c. 155, Laws 1934, is repugnant to the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S.C.A.Const. It is as follows: 'Any person not engaged in any lawful occupation, known to be a member of any gang consisting of two or more persons, who has been convicted at least three times of being a disorderly person, or who has been convicted of any crime, in this or in any other State, is declared to be a gangster * * *'.1 Every violation is punishable by fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 20 years, or both. § 5, R.S.N.J.1937, 2:136—5.

In the court of quarter sessions of Cape May County, appellants were accused of violating the quoted clause. The indictment charges that on four days, June 12, 16, 19, and 24, 1936 'they, and each of them, not being engaged in any lawful occupation; they, and all of them, known to be members of a gang, consisting of two or more persons, and they, and each of them, having been convicted of a crime in the State of Pennsylvania, are hereby declared to be gangsters.' There was a trial, verdict of guilty, and judgment of conviction on which each was sentenced to be imprisoned in the state prison for not more than ten years and not less than five years, at hard labor. On the authority of its recent decision in State v. Bell, 188 A. 737, 15 N.J.Misc. 109, the Supreme Court entered judgment affirming the conviction. State v. Pius, 118 N.J.L. 212, 192 A. 89. The Court of Errors and Appeals affirmed, 120 N.J.L. 189, 198 A. 837, on the authority of its deci-

Page 453

sion, State v. Gaynor, 119 N.J.L. 582, 197 A. 360, affirming State v. Bell.

If on its face the challenged provision is repugnant to the due process clause, specification of details of the offense intended to be charged would not serve to validate it. Cf. United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214, 221, 23 L.Ed. 563; Czarra v. Board of Medical Supervisors, 25 App.D.C. 443, 453. It is the statute, not the accusation under it, that prescribes the rule to govern conduct and warns against transgression. See Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359, 368, 51 S.Ct. 532, 535, 75 L.Ed. 1117, 73 A.L.R. 1484; Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 58 S.Ct. 666, 82 L.Ed. 949. No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal statutes. All are entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids.2 The applicable rule is stated in Connally v. General Const. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322: 'That the terms of a penal statute creating a new offense must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties is a well-recognized requirement, consonant alike with ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law; and a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.'

The phrase 'consisting of two or more persons' is all that purports to define 'gang'. The meanings of that

Page 454

word indicated in dictionaries and in historical and sociological writings are numerous and varied.3 Nor is the

Page 455

meaning derivable from the common law,4 for neither in that field nor anywhere in the language of the law is there definition of the word. Our attention has not been called to, and we are unable to find, any other statute attempting to make it criminal to be a member of a 'gang.'5

In State v. Gaynor, supra, the Court of Errors and Appeals dealt with the word. It said: 'Public policy ordains that a combination designed to wage war upon society shall be dispersed and its members rendered incapable of harm. This is the objective of section 4 * * * and it is therefore a valid exercise of the legislative power. * * * The evident aim of this provision was to render penal the association of criminals for the pursuit of criminal enterprises; that is the gist of the legislative expression. It cannot be gainsaid that such was within the competency of the Legislature; the mere statement of the purpose carries justification of the act. * * * If society cannot impose such taint of illegality upon the confederation of convicted criminals, who have no lawful occupation, under circumstances denoting * * * the pursuit of criminal objectives, it is helpless against one of the most menacing forms of evil activity. * * * The primary function of government * * * is to render security to its subjects.

Page 456

And any mischief menacing that security demands a remedy commensurate with the evil.' (119 N.J.L. 582, 197 A. 361.)

Then undertaking to find the meaning of 'gang' as used in the challenged enactment, the opinion states: 'In the construction of the provision, the word is to be given a meaning consistent with the general object of the statute. In its original sense it signifies action—'to go'; in its modern usage, without qualification, it denotes—in common intent and understanding criminal action. It is defined as 'a company of persons acting together for some purpose, usually criminal,' while the term 'gangster' is defined as 'a member of a gang of roughs, hireling...

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1143 practice notes
  • United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 30, 2017
    ...prohibited." Dunn v. United States , 442 U.S. 100, 112, 99 S.Ct. 2190, 60 L.Ed.2d 743 (1979) ; see also Lanzetta v. State of New Jersey , 306 U.S. 451, 453, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939) ("All are entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids."). To that end, "the ter......
  • Watkins v. United States, No. 261
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 1957
    ...U.S. 507, 68 S.Ct. 665, 92 L.Ed. 840; Musser v. State of Utah, 333 U.S. 95, 68 S.Ct. 397, 92 L.Ed. 562; Lanzetta v. State of New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888. 47. United States v. Orman, 3 Cir., 207 F.2d 148; Bowers v. United States, 92 U.S.App.D.C. 79, 202 F.2d 447; Uni......
  • Snell v. Wyman, No. 67 Civ. 2676.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • February 29, 1968
    ...of New York, 340 U.S. 290, 293-294, 71 S.Ct. 312, 95 L.Ed. 280 (1951) and criminal liability, e. g., Lanzetta v. State of New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939), or whether the claim relates to a supposed excess in delegating power to administrators. On either formulati......
  • Richmond Medical Center for Women v. Gilmore, No. Civ.A. 3:98cv309.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • July 16, 1999
    ...as to the meaning of penal statutes." Morales, ___ U.S. at ___, 119 S.Ct. at 1860 (plurality opinion) (quoting Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 453, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939)). Accordingly, the Act is void for vagueness and therefore unconstitutional for this additional V. CONC......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1143 cases
  • United States v. Kelly, No. 16-10460.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 30, 2017
    ...prohibited." Dunn v. United States , 442 U.S. 100, 112, 99 S.Ct. 2190, 60 L.Ed.2d 743 (1979) ; see also Lanzetta v. State of New Jersey , 306 U.S. 451, 453, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939) ("All are entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids."). To that end, "the ter......
  • People v. Ramirez, No. B098331
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 14, 1997
    ...convictions must fall: the statute would be "repugnant to the due process clause [of the Constitution]." (Lanzetta v. New Jersey (1939) 306 U.S. 451, 453, 59 S.Ct. 618, 619, 83 L.Ed. "No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal statut......
  • State Management Ass'n of Connecticut, Inc. v. O'Neill, No. 12978
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 11, 1987
    ...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 generally note, 'The Void-for-Vagueness Doctrine in the Supreme Court,' 109 U.Pa.L.Rev. 67 (1960)."......
  • U.S. v. Ganim, No. 3:01CR263(JBA).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • September 12, 2002
    ...on the part of the recipient, is unlawful under that statute, and thus is constitutionally infirm. See, e.g., Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451, 453, 59 S.Ct. 618, 83 L.Ed. 888 (1939) ("No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal s......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • INTERNATIONAL MEGAN'S LAW AND THE IDENTIFIER PROVISION: AN EFFICACY ANALYSIS.
    • United States
    • Washington University Global Studies Law Review Vol. 17 Nbr. 1, January 2018
    • January 1, 2018
    ...310 U.S. 296 (1940); Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879); Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584 (1942); and Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U.S. 451 (1939)). In fact, United States law and international law frequently interact in the regions especially targeted by International Megan's Law. ......

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