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Government of Virgin Islands v. Steven

January 9, 1998

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS,

v.

EDWARD STEVEN, APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands

(Division of St. Croix) Criminal No. 96-cr-0043

Before: SLOVITER, Chief Judge, and STAPLETON, and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

Filed January 9, 1998

Argued December 11, 1997

OPINION OF THE COURT

Edward Steven appeals from an order of the Appellate Division of the District Court affirming a judgment entered against him for Driving Under the Influence of an Intoxicating Liquor in violation of Title 20 V.I.C.Section(s) 493(a)(1) and rejecting Steven's constitutional challenge to that statute. Because we agree that Title 20 V.I.C. Section(s) 493(a)(1) is constitutional, we will affirm the district court's order.

I.

On October 19, 1995, police officers on routine patrol stopped Steven when they observed that his car did not have a license plate or taillights. In questioning Steven, one of the officers smelled alcohol on Steven's breath and noticed that his speech was slurred and his eyes were glassy. The officer advised Steven of his Miranda rights, and Steven then admitted that he had been drinking earlier that day. After then failing a series of sobriety tests, Steven was arrested on charges of Driving Under the Influence of an Intoxicating Liquor, in violation of Title 20 V.I.C.Section(s) 493(a)(1) and Operating a Motor Vehicle Without a License Plate in violation of Title 20 V.I.C. Section(s) 331(3).

By order dated April 17, 1996, the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands denied Steven's motion to dismiss the Title

20 V.I.C. Section(s) 493(a)(1) charge on the basis of unconstitutional vagueness. Steven was found guilty of both charges on May 16, 1996. Steven appealed the Territorial Court's judgment to the District Court of the Virgin Islands, asserting that Title 20 V.I.C. Section(s) 493(a)(1) is unconstitutionally vague. The district court affirmed the Territorial Court's judgment by opinion entered on April 23, 1997. This timely appeal followed. We exercise plenary review over the district court's determination as to the constitutionality of the challenged statute. United States v. Parker, 108 F.3d 28, 29 (3d Cir. 1997).

II.

Pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a criminal statute is unconstitutional if it "either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning .. . ." Connally v. General Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391 (1926). The concept of unconstitutional vagueness is derived from a basic notion of fairness; citizens must be given fair warning before being held culpable for conduct deemed to be criminal. Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104, 110 (1972); Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 (1972). A statute therefore meets the constitutional standard of certainty if its language conveys a sufficiently definite warning as to the proscribed conduct when measured by common understanding and practices. United States v. Wise, 550 F.2d 1180, 1186 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 929 (1977).

Title 20 V.I.C. Section(s) 493(a)(1) provides, in relevant part, that "[i]t is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of an intoxicating liquor . . . to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of, any motor vehicle within the Territory." Steven contends that the term "under the influence" as used ...


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