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LAWS 2301 (42)

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LAWS 2301
Ronald Saunders

Criminal Justice SystemPage 145180Ambiguity and Vagueness in the Criminal Law An Analysis of TypesIntroductionA recurrent problem in legal analysis is to distinguish disputes about facts from disputes about wordsConceptual clarity can be gained by attempting to distil from a legal controversy the contribution linguistic considerations make to itThe complexity of interpretive problems in the criminal law derives in part from the varieties of meaning in communication which insistence on a literal or plain meaning approach tends to be obscureActual meaning is the meaning of a word or passage when read in a given contextTrue meaning is the meaning disclosed when the word or passage is read in its proper contextThe problem of what constitutes proper context is an elaborate one but it may succinctly be described as the context shared by the communicant and audience that is presupposed by the communication Although literal meaning may in a given statutory provision coincide with actual or true meaning consideration of proper context typically yields a resultant meaning that differs significantly from literal meaningOnly when literal or plain meaning corresponds to true meaning that is when it is arrived at by considering proper context is the doctrine of literalism in statutory interpretation intelligibleLegal meaning is the meaning assigned to a statutory provision by a court adjudicating a particular legal controversy The arguable disparity between legal meaning and true meaning provides the stuff of scholarly criticism and of appellate court emendationsAmbiguity and vagueness of language are the primary chronic disease which call for contextual therapy and it is important to distinguish between the different forms of each disease and to identify the various symptoms by which each is recognizedAmbiguityAmbiguity the condition of admitting of two or more meanings or being understood in more than one way or of referring to two or more things at the same time is perhaps the most serious disease of language in that the intended meaning of an ambiguous word or passage unlike that of homonymous words which also have multiple layers of reference is not necessarily resolved by advertence to contextLegal terminology has exacerbated the problem by designating additional meanings to words ambiguous in themselvesExamples are words such as residence assignment user accounting process information tax bargain traffic service and fixtureSpecial care must be taken by lawyers and legislative draftsmen to avoid using ambiguous words where the particular legal context will not render the intended meaning clear
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