Nevada’s annoying-a-minor law struck down
December 21, 2002
A Nevada law that made it a misdemeanor to “annoy” or molest a minor was declared unconstitutional Friday by the state Supreme Court.
The high court said the law “does not specify what type of annoying behavior is prohibited nor does it define the term ‘molest.”‘
The decision, written by Justice Deborah Agosti, said there’s no way to tell whether a charge could be filed on the basis of intentional or unintentional bothersome conduct.
The decision upholds a ruling by Clark County District Judge Jeffrey Sobel in the case of a man charged in September 2000 with one count of annoying a minor.
James E. Charles was accused of annoying a girl by following her from her home to another house in Las Vegas and then asking for her 10 to 15 times.
Sobel said the statute was invalid because “people of common intelligence must necessarily guess” at what it means.
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Agosti said both the U.S. and the Nevada Constitutions guarantee that every citizen must have fair notice of conduct that is forbidden.
She also said the law’s ambiguity encourages arbitrary enforcement of the law.
“Because the statute fails to adequately set forth the conduct proscribed, it provides those charged with enforcement of its provisions unfettered and unguided discretion to decide what annoying activity falls within its parameters,” Agosti wrote.
Justice Miriam Shearing, joined by Justices Bill Maupin and Nancy Becker, agreed the “annoying” part of the law was unconstitutional.
“If annoying a minor alone were unlawful, virtually every parent would at one time or another be a lawbreaker,” Shearing said.
But Shearing said the word “molest” in the law isn’t vague. She said molestation involves “hostile intent or injurious effect,” and that part of the law should be upheld.
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