State v. Schriver

In State v. Schriver, 207 Conn. 456, 457, 542 A.2d 686 (1988), a defendant was convicted of violating 53-21 for following the thirteen year old victim, grabbing her around her waist and stating, "Don't worry, all I want to do is feel you." In Schriver, our Supreme Court determined that 53-21 was facially vague because it "failed to articulate a definite standard for determining whether the conduct of the defendant in this case is permitted or prohibited." Id., 461. The court stated further that "'any act' may violate the statute so long as it is 'likely to impair' a minor's health or morals. Standing alone, the phrase 'any act' provides no guidance to potential violators, police officers or juries, particularly because specific intent is not an element of the offense as charged in this case. . . . Nor is the focus of the statute measurably narrowed by the phrase 'likely to impair.' In its ordinary meaning, this phrase would seem to authorize police officers and jurors to determine culpability subjectively, on an ad hoc basis. Rather than providing objective certainty, this phrase compounds the vagueness of the statute because it invites jurors to base criminal liability on their own moral predilections and personal predictions of likely harm. . . . Section 53-21 fails to manifest minimal guidelines by which innocent acts can be objectively and foreseeably distinguished from conduct that violates the statute. The 'absence of any ascertainable standard for inclusion and exclusion is precisely what offends the Due Process Clause. . . . Clearly, the constitutionality of 53-21 depends upon a determination of the extent to which prior decisions of this court have supplied sufficient guidelines to save the statute from its facial invalidity." Id., 461-62. The Schriver court ultimately determined that 53-21 was unconstitutionally vague as applied to the facts of that case, finding that the defendant "had no reasonable opportunity to know that his conduct was prohibited"; id., 466. The Court held that conduct likely to impair solely the mental health of the child was not prohibited by 53-21. That holding clearly does not apply to the facts of this case. Further, the Schriver court did not discuss whether a defendant knew or should have known that a victim was present in order for his conduct to be a deliberate, blatant abuse. As noted in part IV, the "any act" portion of 53-21 (a) (1) is a general intent statute.