Void for Vagueness Law and Legal Definition

Void for vagueness refers to a concept in American Constitutional law declares a law void and unenforceable if it is too vague for an average citizen to understand. This concept is derived out of the due process clause of the fifth and the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The concept requires criminal laws to be drafted in language that is clear enough for an average person to comprehend. Usually, a statute is called void for vagueness when an average citizen is not able to generally determine what persons are regulated, what conduct is prohibited, or what punishment may be imposed. A law can be held void for vagueness when:

1. a law does not specifically enumerate the practices that are either required or prohibited; and

2. a law does not specifically detail the procedure followed by officers or judges of the law.

The doctrine of void for vagueness is based on four underlying policies, they are:

1. the doctrine encourages the government to clearly distinguish conduct that is lawful from that which is unlawful;

2. the doctrine curbs the arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of criminal statutes;

3. the doctrine discourages judges from attempting to apply sloppily worded laws; and

4. the doctrine avoids encroachment on first amendment freedoms, such as freedom of speech and religion.

Void for vagueness means “criminal liability should not attach where one could not reasonably understand that his contemplated conduct is proscribed.” Bankshot Billards, Inc. v. City of Ocala, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12559 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 12, 2010)