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Law School Case Brief

Colten v. Kentucky - 407 U.S. 104, 92 S. Ct. 1953 (1972)


The root of the vagueness doctrine is a rough idea of fairness. It is not a principle designed to convert into a constitutional dilemma the practical difficulties in drawing criminal statutes both general enough to take into account a variety of human conduct and sufficiently specific to provide fair warning that certain kinds of conduct are prohibited. Citizens who desire to obey the statute will have no difficulty in understanding it.


Colten challenged the judgment of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky, which affirmed his conviction for disorderly conduct, in violation of Ky. Rev. Stat. § 437.016. Defendant claimed that his conviction and the state's statute were repugnant to U.S. Const. amend. I andU.S. Const. amend. XIV, and he challenged the constitutionality of the enhanced penalty he received under Kentucky's two-tier system for adjudicating certain criminal cases.


Was the conviction conducted disorderly on the ground that the conviction and the State's statute are repugnant to the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution?




The Court held that the state court properly determined that when defendant was arrested, that he was not engaged in activity protected by U.S. Const. amend. I, and that the police officers' order to disperse was suited to the occasion. The Court held that the state had a legitimate interest in enforcing its traffic laws and its officers were entitled to enforce them free from possible interference or interruption from bystanders, even those claiming a third-party interest in the transaction. The order to disperse was suited to the occasion. The Court held there was nothing unconstitutional in the manner in which the statute was applied and that the statute was neither impermissibly vague nor broad. The Court also ruled that Kentucky's two-tiered court system did not violate Due Process Clause or the Double Jeopardy Clause of U.S. Const. amend. V.

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