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Equality opinion

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

by Jamison Koehler on June 12, 2022
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According to the “Rule of Lenity,” a court must construe any ambiguity in the language of a prison statute in favor of the defendant.  The stakes in a felony situation are large.  The considering at the rear of this rule of statutory building – also regarded as the “rule of rigid construction” — is that you want to be be certain that the legislature definitely meant to proscribe the carry out in dilemma ahead of you upend a person’s lifestyle with a prison conviction.  

In two modern opinions, the D.C. Court of Appeals conditions has interpreted software of this rule in the nation’s capitol.  In In re Willie Richardson, __ A.3d. __ (D.C. 2022), for example, the appellant sought to apply the principle to a scenario in which he argued that four Fb messages he despatched in violation of a temporary defense buy (TPO) constituted a person criminal offense, not four.  

The Court docket explained the existing condition of the regulation in D.C. as follows:  

The rule of lenity states that legal statutes need to be strictly construed and that ambiguities need to be solved in favor of the defendant.  However, this rule of statutory design is brought on only if we can first say that a supplied statute’s language, construction, objective and legistative leaves its which means truly in doubt.  (Inner citations and quotations omitted.)

The D.C. Court of Appeals explained the rule in equivalent manner in a much more latest scenario, 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 equilibrium in favor of criminal defendants only in which, unique of the rule, a penal statute’s language, composition, function and legislative heritage depart its that means truly in doubt.  Importantly, the rule is a secondary canon of development, and is to be invoked only exactly where the statutory language, composition, goal, and heritage depart the intent of the legislature in legitimate doubt.  (Internal citations and quotations omitted.). 

In equally conditions, the Courtroom uncovered that the rule did not implement.

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