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GIACCIO v. PENNSYLVANIA

decided: January 19, 1966.

GIACCIO
v.
PENNSYLVANIA



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas

Author: Black

[ 382 U.S. Page 400]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant Giaccio was indicted by a Pennsylvania grand jury and charged with two violations of a state statute which makes it a misdemeanor to wantonly point or discharge a firearm at any other person.*fn1 In a trial before a judge and jury appellant's defense was that the firearm he had discharged was a starter pistol which only fired blanks. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on each charge, but acting pursuant to instructions of the court given under authority of a Pennsylvania statute of 1860, assessed against appellant the court costs of one of the charges (amounting to $230.95). The Act of 1860, set out below,*fn2 provides among other things that:

". . . in all cases of acquittals by the petit jury on indictments for [offenses other than felonies], the jury trying the same shall determine, by their verdict, whether the county, or the prosecutor, or the

[ 382 U.S. Page 401]

     defendant shall pay the costs . . . and whenever the jury shall determine as aforesaid, that the . . . defendant shall pay the costs, the court in which the said determination shall be made shall forthwith pass sentence to that effect, and order him to be committed to the jail of the county until the costs are paid, unless he give security to pay the same within ten days."

Appellant made timely objections to the validity of this statute on several grounds,*fn3 including an objection that the statute is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because it authorizes juries to assess costs against acquitted defendants, with a threat of imprisonment until the costs are paid, without prescribing definite standards to govern the jury's determination. The trial court held the 1860 Act void for vagueness in violation of due process, set aside the jury's verdict imposing costs on the appellant, and vacated the "sentence imposed upon Defendant that he pay said costs forthwith or give security to pay the same within ten (10) days and to stand committed until he had complied therewith."*fn4 The Superior Court of Pennsylvania, one judge dissenting, reversed the trial court closing its opinion this way:

"We can find no reason that would justify our holding it [the 1860 Act] unconstitutional.

"Order reversed, sentence reinstated."*fn5

The State Supreme Court, again with one judge dissenting, agreed with the Superior Court and affirmed its judgment.*fn6

[ 382 U.S. Page 402]

     This left appellant subject to the judgment for costs and the "sentence" to enforce payment. We noted jurisdiction to consider the question raised concerning vagueness and absence of proper standards in the 1860 Act. 381 U.S. 923. We agree with the trial court and the dissenting judges in the appellate courts below that the 1860 Act is invalid under the Due Process Clause because of vagueness and the absence of any ...


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