by Jamison Koehler on June 12, 2022
According to the “Rule of Lenity,” a court should construe any ambiguity in the language of a criminal statute in favor of the defendant. The stakes in a criminal scenario are high. The considering behind this rule of statutory construction – also regarded as the “rule of rigid construction” — is that you want to be make certain that the legislature definitely supposed to proscribe the carry out in question ahead of you upend a person’s life with a criminal conviction.
In two recent viewpoints, the D.C. Court docket of Appeals cases has interpreted application of this rule in the nation’s capitol. In In re Willie Richardson, __ A.3d. __ (D.C. 2022), for case in point, the appellant sought to implement the theory to a case in which he argued that four Facebook messages he sent in violation of a non permanent defense purchase (TPO) constituted one particular criminal offense, not four.
The Court explained the present-day condition of the law in D.C. as follows:
The rule of lenity states that criminal statutes must be strictly construed and that ambiguities must be fixed in favor of the defendant. However, this rule of statutory construction is triggered only if we can initial say that a supplied statute’s language, structure, function and legistative leaves its that means genuinely in doubt. (Inner citations and quotations omitted.)
The D.C. Court docket of Appeals described the rule in equivalent vogue in a extra new situation, Craig Lee v. United States, __ A.3d __ (D.C. 2022):
The rule of lenity is only made use of to take care of ambiguity in penal statutes. The rule . . . can suggestion the balance in favor of felony defendants only exactly where, exclusive of the rule, a penal statute’s language, structure, objective and legislative history leave its that means truly 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 depart the intent of the legislature in authentic doubt. (Internal citations and quotations omitted.).
In both circumstances, the Court discovered that the rule did not use.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh also weighed in as part of his concurrence in Shular v. United States, 140 S.Ct. 779, 789 (2020). The courts will have to initially use, he wrote, “all of the common equipment of statutory interpretation.” Only then, if the statute stays “grievously ambiguous [such] that the court docket can make no more than a guess as to what the statute suggests,” will the rule of lenity use.