December 6, 2023

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The “Rule of Lenity” in D.C. Koehler Law

The “Rule of Lenity” in D.C. Koehler Law

by Jamison Koehler on June 12, 2022
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In accordance to the “Rule of Lenity,” a court docket ought to construe any ambiguity in the language of a prison statute in favor of the defendant.  The stakes in a prison circumstance are substantial.  The contemplating behind this rule of statutory development – also identified as the “rule of rigorous construction” — is that you want to be ensure that the legislature truly meant to proscribe the carry out in query in advance of you upend a person’s lifestyle with a prison conviction.  

In two new viewpoints, the D.C. Court of Appeals situations has interpreted software of this rule in the nation’s capitol.  In In re Willie Richardson, __ A.3d. __ (D.C. 2022), for instance, the appellant sought to apply the principle to a scenario in which he argued that four Fb messages he sent in violation of a temporary security order (TPO) constituted 1 legal offense, not four.  

The Courtroom explained the latest condition of the legislation in D.C. as follows:  

The rule of lenity states that prison statutes ought to be strictly construed and that ambiguities should really be solved in favor of the defendant.  However, this rule of statutory building is activated only if we can 1st say that a presented statute’s language, structure, objective and legistative leaves its that means genuinely in doubt.  (Interior citations and quotations omitted.)

The D.C. Courtroom of Appeals described the rule in related style in a more the latest circumstance, Craig Lee v. United States, __ A.3d __ (D.C. 2022):

The rule of lenity is only utilized to solve ambiguity in penal statutes.  The rule . . . can suggestion the harmony in favor of prison defendants only the place, exceptional of the rule, a penal statute’s language, construction, function and legislative record depart its that means genuinely in question.  Importantly, the rule is a secondary canon of building, and is to be invoked only the place the statutory language, framework, purpose, and history go away the intent of the legislature in genuine doubt.  (Inside citations and quotations omitted.). 

In both equally instances, the Courtroom discovered that the rule did not utilize.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also weighed in as portion of his concurrence in Shular v. United States, 140 S.Ct. 779, 789 (2020).  The courts should very first use, he wrote, “all of the classic resources of statutory interpretation.”  Only then, if the statute remains “grievously ambiguous [such] that the court docket can make no more than a guess as to what the statute signifies,” will the rule of lenity implement.