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Overlapping statutes are not vague merely because they impose different penalties. A criminal statute violates due process if it fails to give fair notice of the proscribed conduct and the consequences of violating a given criminal statute. Overlapping statutes with different penalties provide sufficient notice: Although the statutes create uncertainty as to which crime may be charged and therefore what penalties may be imposed, they do so to no greater extent than would a single statute authorizing various alternative punishments. So long as overlapping criminal provisions clearly define the conduct prohibited and the punishment authorized, the notice requirements of the Due Process Clause are satisfied.
On March 2, 1979, a court liaison worker for the Milwaukee County Department of Social Services signed a criminal complaint charging the defendant, Ronnie D. Cissell, with intentionally and willfully neglecting to provide for the support and maintenance of his minor child, leaving her in destitute and necessitous circumstances, contrary to sec. 52.05(1), Stats. The complaint alleged that the defendant had not paid any money for his child's support from 1973 through 1979, and that he had been ordered to make such payments in the amount of $ 12,459.33. The defendant was arrested on August 14, 1980, pursuant to the warrant signed in March of 1979. The preliminary examination was conducted on January 7, 1983, at which time the defendant was bound over for trial. The Milwaukee circuit court, Judge Janine Geske, held that the defendant's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law were violated by charging him with the felony and ordered that the charge against the defendant be reduced to the misdemeanor of nonsupport. The court based its holding on the conclusion that the elements of the two crimes are identical. The court of appeals, in an unpublished decision, affirmed the circuit court's decision solely on equal protection grounds.
Do overlapping statutes with different penalties provide sufficient notice?
The court held that identical element crimes with different penalties did not violate due process or equal protection. The court also concluded that § 52.05(1), was not void for vagueness because the statute informed a person charged with abandonment that he must have willfully failed to satisfy his duty of support to his spouse or children. The court held that this standard provided adequate notice of the conduct proscribed by the statute to those who must obey it and a defined standard for those who must enforce the law and adjudicate guilt. Accordingly, the court reversed the decision of the appellate court.