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Vagueness may invalidate a criminal law for either of two independent reasons. First, it may fail to provide the kind of notice that will enable ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits; second, it may authorize and even encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. In evaluating a facial challenge to a state law, a federal court must consider any limiting construction that a state court or enforcement agency has proffered. Criminal penalties are scrutinized more closely for vagueness than civil penalties because the consequences of imprecise criminal statutes are more severe. A scienter requirement may mitigate a law's vagueness, especially with respect to the adequacy of notice to the complainant that his conduct is proscribed.
Plaintiff resident was part of a religious group whose members were arrested while handing out Bibles from a public bike path/sidewalk abutting the grounds of a public school. Because the path was less than 500 feet from the school and the arresting officer determined that handing out Bibles did not meet the statutory requirement of conducting "legitimate business," the activity was deemed to violate the school's safety zone as defined by Fla. Stat. § 810.0975(1). Plaintiff instituted a suit, claiming that Fla. Stat. § 810.0975(2)(a)-(c) violated the First Amendment's freedom of speech and free exercise of religion clauses and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process and equal protection guarantees. The defendant, in his capacity as county sheriff, sought summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff resident also sought summary judgment.
Did Fla. Stat. § 810.0975(2)(a)-(c) violate the constitution?
Yes, with respect to § 810.0975(2)(a), (b). No, with respect to § 810.0975(2)(c).
The court held that § 810.0975(2)(a), (b) were both unconstitutionally vague because they failed to give a person of ordinary intelligence notice of what "legitimate business" in relation to a school meant. Section 810.0975(2)(b) also invited discriminatory enforcement. However, § 810.0975(2)(c)--which penalized persons for failing to leave a school safety zone after being instructed to do so by a principal or designee who reasonably believed a crime was about to be committed--was not unconstitutionally vague or overbroad. The sheriff was not liable for the arresting deputy's discretionary act because the sheriff had no policy governing how deputies were to make arrests in school safety zones and did not ratify the act.