Legal Doctrine - Vagueness

Discussion in 'Firearm Related' started by GAfirearmsReference, Apr 12, 2017.

  1. GAfirearmsReference

    GAfirearmsReference Weapons Law Booklet

    H.B. 280, if enacted into law, will retain a gun ban on college classrooms that are used for educating high school students who participate in joint enrollment.

    How is a GWL-holding adult who is not a classmate or instructor of such a mixed-age class supposed to know which classrooms meet this condition and are thus off-limits?

    HB 280 would also ban carrying in any administrative or faculty rooms that are used for disciplinary hearings. The language does not say "only when so used," and I assume the gun ban is all day, every day, even if the room is only infrequently the site of a hearing. So, how are people who are NOT involved in any disciplinary hearings supposed to know which rooms are sometimes used for that purpose?

    Under prior versions of Code section 16-11-127, a restaurant that served alcohol was OK to carry in, if selling food was their primary source of revenue. But if selling booze was the main thing and any food they served was just incidental to the drinking, then this place would be off-limits. How were citizens supposed to know? Ask the owner? Ask the manager? Put the business's accountant under subpoena duces tecum and question him and his records at a deposition? ;)

    For years we gun owners in Georgia have also dealt with the question of what is a "government building" when it is not clear if a government entity is housed there or uses that building for administrative meetings.

    THE ISSUE I'M GETTING AT is the "void for vagueness" doctrine.

    A criminal law aimed at regulating the activities of private individuals is supposed to give notice about what is allowed and what is prohibited, so that people of ordinary intelligence who read the law will know where the line is between legal and illegal conduct. (see, e.g., Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, at page 108 (U.S. Supreme Court, 1972) (anti-picketing ordinance was too vague to be constitutional, but noise ordinance preventing disturbing a public school's activity was legitimate and could be enforced).

    I've only seen cases and read law journal articles that discuss whether the text of the law as written is vague.

    THE NEXT QUESTION, and the question that's relevant for GUN CONTROL laws with off-limits locations, is likely to be:

    "To what extent, if any, can a criminal law require a citizen to investigate and research facts and circumstances outside of the law to determine if the elements of the offence in a certain criminal statute would be met if the citizen proceeded with the action he or she is contemplating?"

    Citizens have a duty to read and understand the law, certainly. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you don't read every law and every reported appellate-level court case applying that law, you assume the risk of getting it wrong, and your misunderstanding of "the law" is no defense.

    But... what about your mistake of the facts? The actual in-the-field facts and circumstances of the situation you are about to walk into?

    IF A LAW SAID it is illegal to enter a room where more than 20 people are gathered, where you would be the 21st or greater-numbered person upon your entry, that's certainly clear. We all know what that means, and we can all count that high without using our fingers and toes.

    BUT, how do we apply such a law? How can you count the people in the room without entering the room yourself? What if you enter and count 24 people? You've already broken the law. If you stay outside the building, you will be unable to count them, although perhaps in some situations you could see through windows and estimate the size of the crowd.

    This brings up the issue of "mens rea" or "scienter". Both of these legal terms mean guilty mind, and acting with criminal intent. Knowing the nature of what you're doing, and not being innocent in your actions.

    Historically, all crimes had a scienter requirement.
    But over the years, law-and-order politicians have gotten many laws passed without any stated component of scienter. Other politicians have drafted sloppy legislation that doesn't mention the issue at all, and by omission seems to approve of punishing people on a strict liability standard-- guilt without fault. (Other than the "fault" of violating the letter of the law).

    In Fair v. State (2008) the Georgia Supreme Court found that where a law authorizing the death penalty for anybody killing a police officer does not use the word "knowingly" like so many other criminal laws do, then it is not necessary that the shooter know that the man who kicked down his door and was stomping through his house was a police officer, rather than an intruder. No "mens rea" required. Even if the citizen only realized his home was being raided by cops AFTER he fired at the intruders, it doesn't matter. The dead man was, in fact, a cop who had entered the home in the performance of his duties.

    So then, is it legitimate for the law to criminalize conduct based on facts and circumstances that are not known to to defendant?

    Can there be "vagueness" in the law through the difficulty in ascertaining the FACTS of a situation, or is "vagueness" just about the words written in a Code book?
  2. NTA

    NTA Well-Known Member

    If it was simple for a layman to understand there would be no need for lawyers.

  3. 70755

    70755 Guest

    Excellent topic. I have been very frustrated by Georgia laws in particular that relate to criminalizing carry or designating places off limits. In my observation Georgia laws tend to get written very broadly at best and abiguously at worst. I would say poorly. Often beyond the reach of an average citizen to always know where the legal trip wires are.

    Government building for example. Even if a layman could know every possible authority, board, instrumentality, etc of government ( as if those aren't fuzzy enough), what constitutes a government building is still a topic of confusion.

    Courthouse. The Georgia definition is quite broad. As written any government annex complex that happens to have a room that occasionally gets used for judicial hearings is in its entirety a "courthouse". Moreover the restriction applies not just to the courtroom and immediate environs, but the whole structure. Also aplies 24/7 as opposed to only when proceedings are being conducted. Some other states are not so broadly and/or ambiguously defined.

    What about codes that make things illegal because of who owns the property? Invisible line laws. How is a person to reasonably know if that lot you walked onto or building you walked into is in fact owndewd by the board of regents or a university? Maybe it is held for future purposes and leased out or idle with nothing to do with academic activities. But the law says property owned by such authority or institution is off limits as any other "school".

    It's like the ambiguity ghost of the old public gathering statute still haunts us in new form.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 12, 2017
  4. Malum Prohibitum

    Malum Prohibitum Moderator Staff Member

    With respect to a high schooler dual enrollment student in the class, I wonder if there is not such an issue of vagueness. That is pretty understandable by anybody reading the law. One need not be a lawyer to understand what is illegal.

    Perhaps there is an issue of notice.

    Perhaps there is an issue of criminal intent, or is this a strict liability crime with respect to whether there is a high schooler in the room so that the state need not prove you knew it and intended to violate the law, like statutory rape and the state need not prove you knew the female was 15.

    Is your knowledge that there is a high school dual enrollment student in the class taking lessons with you an essential element of the crime?
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  5. Malum Prohibitum

    Malum Prohibitum Moderator Staff Member

  6. Phil1979

    Phil1979 Member Georgia Carry

    Perhaps there will be a test case. How can you be expected to abide by a law's special circumstance when you can't know the dayum circumstance?

    Will licensed-to-carry college students be harassed or penalized for asking if any highschoolers are in the class?

    Perhaps we can all submit some open records requests for any documentation that would make these classrooms known?

    If that doesn't work, we can all start calling the colleges to ask to try and find out.

    Hope they have enough staff to man the phones!