In re Banks

295 N.C. 236, 244 S.E.2d 386 (1978)



Criminal statutes must be strictly construed. But the courts must nevertheless construe it with regard to the evil which it is intended to suppress. The intent of the legislature controls the interpretation of a statute. When the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, there is no room for judicial construction and the courts must give the statute its plain and definite meaning, and are without power to interpolate provisions and limitations not contained therein. But when a statute is ambiguous or unclear in its meaning, resort must be had to judicial construction to ascertain the legislative will, and the courts will interpret the language to give effect to the legislative intent. The legislative intent is to be ascertained by appropriate means and indicia, such as the purposes appearing from the statute taken as a whole, the phraseology, the words ordinary or technical, the law as it prevailed before the statute, the mischief to be remedied, the remedy, the end to be accomplished, statutes in pari materia, the preamble, the title, and other like means. Other indicia are the legislative history of an act and the circumstances surrounding its adoption; earlier statutes on the same subject; the common law as it was understood at the time of the enactment of the statute; and previous interpretations of the same or similar statutes.


Defendant looked into a woman's room into a room with the intent of violating her legitimate expectation of privacy. He was charged under the "peeping tom" statute.  The trial court dismissed the charges. On review, the court reversed and remanded. The court found that, interpreting the language of the statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-202 prohibited the conduct.


Is Peeping Tom statute void for vagueness or overbreadth?




The sttaute is neither void for vagueness nor overbreadth, because as long as a criminal statute gives notice that it is criminalizing such conduct, there is no vagueness. The court determined that such an interpretation was sufficient to inform a person of ordinary intelligence, with reasonable precision, of those acts the statute intended to prohibit, so that he knew what acts he should avoid in order that he would not bring himself within its provisions. The court held, therefore, that § 14-202 was sufficiently definite to give an individual fair notice of the conduct prohibited, and to guide a court in its application and a lawyer in defending one charged with its violation, and that this statute violated neither N.C. Const. art. I, § 19, nor the due process clause of the federal constitution by reason of vagueness and uncertainty, nor was the statute unconstitutional for overbreadth.

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