Law School Case Brief
United States v. Vuitch - 402 U.S. 62, 91 S. Ct. 1294 (1971)
The Criminal Appeals Act, 18 U.S.C.S. § 3731, gives the Supreme Court of the United States jurisdiction over direct appeals from district court judgments in all criminal cases dismissing any indictment where such decision is based upon the invalidity of the statute upon which the indictment is founded.
A licensed physician was indicted for producing and attempting to produce abortions in violation of a provision of the District of Columbia Code which makes criminal the performance or attempted performance of an abortion unless "done as necessary for the preservation of the mother's life or health" and under the direction of a licensed physician. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the indictment on the ground that the abortion statute was unconstitutionally vague since there was no indication whether the term "health" included mental as well as physical health, and since the burden was on the defendant to show that an abortion was necessary to the preservation of the mother's life or health.
Did the Supreme Court of the United States have jurisdiction to hear the appeal?
The Supreme Court of the United States raised the question of its jurisdiction to hear the appeal. The Court concluded that the fact the statute was applicable only to the District of Columbia did not change it status as a "statute" under 18 U.S.C.S § 3731 of the Criminal Appeals Act. The Court also concluded that it was not precluded from hearing the appeal simply because an appeal might have also been taken to a different court. The Court reviewed the language of D.C. Code Ann. § 22-201 (1967) and determined that, under its provisions, the burden was on the prosecution to plead and prove that an abortion was not necessary for the preservation of the mother's life or health. The Court also determined that the word "health" was not so imprecise or uncertain that it failed to inform defendant of the charges against him. The Court found, therefore, that § 22-201 did not offend the Due Process Clause.
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