Regina Salmons is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying English.
Sometimes in law, as in life, it is not what we say, but how we say it. In the matters of the legal world and within the courtroom, the precise wording of statements can make all the difference. Where one places a comma can be the difference between winning and losing a case, and the order in which one structures a sentence can determine the outcome of someone’s life. Yet at the same time, how one reads the meaning of a text is often dependent on who is reading it, as interpretations often vary.
This past November, the Supreme Court heard Lockhart v. United States, a case that saw an entire argument revolving around whether or not the last clause of a sentence containing multiple modified the preceding clauses. Lockhart was undeniably guilty of possessing child pornography—a crime to which he had pleaded guilty. Lockhart had also previously been convicted for the first-degree sexual abuse of his girlfriend of the time. Because of his prior conviction, his presentence report judged that he be subjected to a ten year mandatory minimum sentence enhancement. The enhancement was based on the wording of a crime “relating to aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor,” which the judgment decided encompassed the abuse of his adult girlfriend.