Due Process Violated By Unclear State Law

1972

In Rabe v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (which guarantees the right to a fair hearing that follows the rules) is violated when a state law fails to explain exactly what conduct is prohibited. In Rabe, the defendant was convicted under Washington’s obscenity law after he showed an X-rated movie at his drive-in theater. The trial court concluded that the movie was not technically “obscene.” However, the fact that the movie was shown at a drive-in – making it visible to viewers other than consenting adults – made it illegal. The justices reverse the conviction, finding that the state’s obscenity law makes no distinction between obscene material that is shown in private and material that is shown in public.

Although this case does not directly involve a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to be informed of charges, it shows the importance of people having a right to know what conduct is considered criminal.