Monday, June 27, 2011


Supreme Court Justice

Horace Gray

The Court decided that this use of the statute language did not sufficiently satisfy the Arraignment Clause notification requirement and threw out the conviction. Justice Horace Gray said in the Court's opinion:

"In an indictment upon a statute, it is not sufficient to set forth the offense in the words of the statute unless those words of themselves fully, directly, and expressly, without any uncertainty or ambiguity, set forth all the elements necessary to constitute the offense intended to be punished, and the fact that the statute in question, read in the light of the common law and of other statutes on the like matter, enables the court to infer the intent of the legislature, does not dispense with the necessity of alleging in the indictment all the facts necessary to bring the case within that intent."

The fact that the language used in an indictment must be very specific is extremely important. For one, you could not defend yourself against the charges if you didn't know what the charges were, or if they were vague. Or, people could be charged with things they didn't even do and not be able to defend themselves. Secondly, prosecutors could try people on very vague charges that could even be completely false. They could try people they didn't like or people who held different opinions than they did. People could be sent to prison because of the whims and prejudices of officials. That would not be good!

Sixth Amendment Court Cases

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