NACDL - The Rule of Lenity Redivivus: New Interest In an Old Doctrine

The Rule of Lenity Redivivus: New Interest In an Old Doctrine

Since the turn of the century, the rule of lenity has enjoyed a mini-revival, at least when interpreting a law broadly would expose a defendant to a lengthy sentence disproportionate to the offense. The latest illustration of this trend is Yates v. United States. When punishment would be incommensurate with the offense, defense attorneys should not forget that an argument based on the rule of lenity can have considerable force.