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It is settled that a statute so vague and indefinite, in form and as interpreted, as to permit within the scope of its language the punishment of incidents fairly within the protection of the guarantee of free speech is void, on its face, as contrary to the U.S. Const. amend. XIV. A failure of a statute limiting freedom of expression to give fair notice of what acts will be punished and such a statute's inclusion of prohibitions against expressions, protected by the principles of the U.S. Const. amend. I, violates an accused's rights under procedural due process and freedom of speech or press.
Winters, a bookdealer, was convicted under N.Y. Penal Law § 1141(2) for having certain magazines in his possession with intent to sell them, in violation of N.Y. Penal Law § 1141(2). The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed the order and amended its remittitur to the trial court, so as to show that it had held that Winters’ conviction did not violate U.S. Const. amend. XIV.
Was the New York statute under which defendant was convicted unconstitutionally vague?
The Court invalidated defendant's conviction, holding that the statute was too vague and indefinite. The Court ruled that the failure of a statute, which limited freedom of expression, to give fair notice of what acts would be punished was unconstitutional. The Court held that the statute was so vague that an honest distributor of publications could not know whether he was violating the statute.