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Statutory Construction: Not For The Timid
By Jon May
By far the most exciting part of a defense lawyer’s practice is parsing the words of a criminal statute to uncover its latent ambiguity. Nothing, not an impassioned plea for the life of the accused, not a cross-examination that reduces the government’s lead witness to tears, comes close to the excitement that comes from demonstrating the lawfulness of a defendant’s conduct from the placement of an adverb in a sentence. Few realize the spark that inspired many of the giants of our profession occurred during those sessions at the black board (def. antecedent of white boards involving the use of chalk against a slate surface) in elementary school where sentences were de-constructed under the admiring gaze of our classmates. Little did we know that our facility with parallel and vertical lines identifying the subject from the predicate and showing which clauses modified which phrases would become so valuable later in our professional lives.
Amazingly, there are still lawyers practicing who
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