People v. Heckard, 23025

Decision Date02 October 1967
Docket NumberNo. 23025,23025
Citation431 P.2d 1014,164 Colo. 19
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner, v. Larry Eugene HECKARD, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Duke W. Dunbar, Atty. Gen., H. R. Harward, Dist. Atty., Bruce Johnson, Deputy Dist. Atty., for petitioner.

Frederickson & Schalow, Canon City, for respondent.

SUTTON, Justice.

The sole question involved in this Writ of Certiorari is whether the Colorado statute pertaining to drag racing of automobiles, i.e., 'speed contests' (C.R.S.1963 13--5--143), is so vague and indefinite as to violate the due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and of Article II, Section 25 of the Colorado Constitution.

The record discloses that the respondent, Larry Eugene Heckard, was charged with the misdemeanor offense of violating the aforesaid statute which provides in pertinent part:

'* * * (1) No person shall engage in any motor vehicle speed or acceleration contest or exhibition of speed or acceleration on a highway and no person shall aid or abet in any such motor vehicle speed or acceleration contest or exhibition on any highway.

'(2) No person shall for the purpose of facilitating or aiding or as an incident to any motor vehicle speed or acceleration contest upon a highway in any manner obstruct or place any barricade or obstruction or assist or participate in placing any such barricade or obstruction upon any highway.'

The county court of Fremont County dismissed the complaint on motion on the ground that the statute was too vague, uncertain and indefinite to be enforced. The district court upheld the dismissal on appeal. We granted Certiorari upon petition by the People. Without further elaboration of the facts we turn to the issue to be decided.

Inherent in due process is the concept of fairness which requires the legislature to frame criminal statutes with sufficient clarity so as to inform persons subject to such laws of the standards of conduct imposed, i.e., give a fair warning of the forbidden acts. Cline v. Frink Dairy Company,274 U.S. 445, 47 S.Ct. 681, 71 L.Ed.2d 1146 (1927); Memorial Trusts v. Beery, 144 Colo. 448, 356 P.2d 884 (1960); Flank Okl Co. v. Tennessee Co.,141 Colo. 554, 349 P.2d 1005 (1960). And, such laws must be drafted so that innocent persons who desire to comply with them will be able to do so. Of course, definiteness must also provide the police and prosecution with clearly-defined standards. These in turn serve to lessen the effect of personal judgment and discrimination upon enforcement processes. Obviously such statutes must provide standards sufficiently precise to inform a court and jury whether a crime has been committed and proved. When there is no reasonably ascertainable standard of guilt, the criminal process may lie open to whim and caprice which is abhorrent to our system of fair play and justice.

In Memorial Trusts, supra, this court adopted the test of vagueness stated in Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322, 328 (1926). It was there said quoting Connally that:

'* * * 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. * * *'

In Dekelt v. People, 44 Colo. 525, 99 P. 330 (1908), a case involving interpretation of a criminal statute, this court stated:

'* * * So that the cardinal rule to be observed in construing a statute is to ascertain the amount of the Legislature in passing it, and to this end it is to be given that possible construction which will render it effective, and accomplish the purpose of the legislative intent, if such intent can be ascertained and reasonably inferred by permitted legal means. (Citations omitted.)

'In ascertaining the intention of the Legislature where the words employed in a statute are not explicit, it is permissible to take into consideration the necessity for the law and the remedy in view, and...

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21 cases
  • People v. Thoro Products Co., Inc.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • May 19, 2003
    ...It is axiomatic that criminal law must be sufficiently clear such that a citizen will know what the law forbids. See People v. Heckard, 164 Colo. 19, 431 P.2d 1014 (1967). For this reason, ambiguity in the meaning of a criminal statute must be interpreted in favor of the defendant under the......
  • People v. Thatcher
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1981
    ...of ... serious bodily injury" is so vague that it violates the due process requirements of precision and clarity. In People v. Heckard, 164 Colo. 19, 431 P.2d 1014 (1967), this court enunciated the standard a statute must satisfy to accord due process. The legislature frame criminal statute......
  • State v. Gonzales, A-1-CA-35208
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of New Mexico
    • May 2, 2019 the first person’s car or in another car" (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); People v. Heckard , 164 Colo. 19, 431 P.2d 1014, 1016 (1967) (concluding that statute "defines two primary offenses,... the ‘speed or acceleration contest,’ and the ‘exhibition of......
  • People v. Blue
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • December 22, 1975
    ...recognized requirement, consonant alike with ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law * * *.' See also People v. Heckard, 164 Colo. 19, 431 P.2d 1014; Memorial Trusts v. Beery, 144 Colo. 448, 356 P.2d 884. At the same time, we recognize that there is a limit on the degree ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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