Wednesday, November 04, 2015

"How would you feel if your 10-year prison sentence depended on a dangling modifier?"

That's the question asked by Professor Noah Feldman in this piece:

That's the situation for Avondale Lockhart, whose case was heard Tuesday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lockhart was caught in a federal sting and pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography. He had a previous state conviction for attempted rape, a form of sexual abuse.

According to federal law, Lockhart gets a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for the child pornography if he had a prior state conviction “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor.” The crucial words here are “involving a minor.” Lockhart says they apply to the whole sentence. Because his prior conviction was for attempted rape of a woman, not a minor, the law doesn't apply to him. The government says “involving a minor” just refers to the last part of the sentence, “abusive sexual conduct,” not to what came before. It thinks Lockhart should get the 10 years.

The conclusion:

The upshot is that language is fuzzy and imperfect -- and we need a common-sense solution to that problem, not abstract rules. The court may spend a lot of time talking canons, but it shouldn’t. Statutory purpose is the best way to resolve difficult statutory questions. Lockhart shouldn't get the enhancement under the law -- no matter how much you detest his crimes.


Anonymous said...

It's like "The Bastard Executioner" Is that a show about an executioner who is a bastard or is it about an executioner who specializes in executing bastards?

Anonymous said...

What kind of sexual conduct with a minor would NOT be abusive?