Justice Scalia on the rule of lenity in U.S. v. Santos, 2008:
This venerable rule not only vindicates the fundamental principle that no citizen should be held accountable for a violation of a statute whose commands are uncertain, or subjected to punishment that is not clearly prescribed. It also places the weight of inertia upon the party that can best induce Congress to speak more clearly and keeps courts from making criminal law in Congress’s stead.
Vikrant Reddy (footnotes omitted):
Although this understanding should be perfectly ordinary, the application of the rule of lenity has in fact begun to erode dramatically in recent years. This has happened in concert with a troubling phenomenon: the dramatic growth of criminal law in a variety of non-traditional arenas, generally involving freely agreed-upon exchanges between adults. These “business crimes” (which include such things as harvesting oysters at the wrong time of day, improperly thrashing pecan trees, or even mislabeling citrus fruit) are increasingly exempt from the ordinary application of the rule of lenity in the minds of many judges and prosecutors.
Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute has even argued that the ordinary application of the rule of lenity “has been turned on its head.” He has observed that “When an ordinary criminal statute is ambiguous, the courts give the benefit of the doubt to the accused, but when a regulatory provision is ambiguous, the benefit of the doubt is given to the prosecutor.”11 What is troubling is that while defendants found guilty of these business crimes are subject to criminal sanctions—including prison—they increasingly do not enjoy the fundamental due process protections that are supposed to be guaranteed by the rule of lenity.
His paper for the Texas Public Policy Foundation recommends:
• Texas should formally codify the rule of lenity in the state code.
• The rule of lenity is a partial solution to a larger problem — the overall trend towards overcriminalization in American life.
• Fewer “business crimes” would mean fewer crimes for whichthe rule of lenity is disregarded.
Paging the Brennan Center and Justice at Stake! “The law firm that profited the most from insurance suits in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike is sending hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign fund of the former judge who presided over the lion’s share of the litigation.” Houston plaintiff’s attorney Steve Mostyn and his wife Amber have vaulted into the ranks of some of the nation’s top political donors lately. [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine; earlier on Mostyn]
More tasteful advertising, this time for a Fort Worth practitioner.
Never mind what rightish pundits have to say about the Perry indictment. Leftish pundits like Jonathan Chait are tearing it to shreds all by themselves. It reminds me of when prosecutor Andrew Thomas, sidekick of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, pressed charges against some of Arpaio’s political rivals over actions within their official authority, an episode that ended with Thomas’s disbarment. Chait:
They say a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich, and this always seemed like hyperbole, until Friday night a Texas grand jury announced an indictment of governor Rick Perry. The “crime” for which Perry faces a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison is vetoing funding for a state agency. …
The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves.
When you’ve lost not just David Axelrod and Matt Yglesias but even Jonathan Chait and Scott Lemieux for a legal complaint against a conservative, you’re not just aboard a sinking ship, it’s more like you’re grasping a piece of random driftwood.
P.S. John Steele Gordon, Commentary: “the blow back from left, right, and center is so intense that Perry may well be the first public official to actually gain political clout from being indicted.” (& welcome Jacob Gershman/WSJ Law Blog readers)
“Some of the least-qualified graduates of the University of Texas School of Law in recent years have high-level connections in the Legislature, which may explain how they got into the prestigious law school in the first place.” [Jon Cassidy, Watchdog] Five years ago, the University of Illinois was hit with a damaging scandal over the admission of less-qualified applicants at the behest of the politically connected.
A step too far for the surveillance state? And has it even been authorized by Texas law? [Dave Lieber, Dallas Morning News and more via Jon Cassidy, Watchdog.org] More: TechDirt.
While the court did not endorse “but-for” causation standard favored by the defense, it did rule against the ultra-accommodating position that “any exposure” to asbestos should result in liability even if far greater exposure came from a different source. The court instead hinged liability on whether a defendant’s product or activity was a “substantial factor,” which it defined “as one that more than doubles the risk of injury to the plaintiff.” [Deborah La Fetra, PLF]
Kemal Yazar’s wife called police out of concern for her husband, who had begun behaving erratically and speaking delusionally. Following a struggle of some sort, police shot the unarmed father of three to death. Now one of the deputies at the scene, “who according to an investigator’s report, suffered ‘superficial wounds’ during the incident” (though he now reports more serious injuries), has sued the family, accusing them of “negligence and recklessness” for not warning emergency operators that Mr. Yazar might be a serious threat. “Oddly, the deputy didn’t sue Kemal’s wife, who placed the call, but her mother, Carmina Figueroa, whose name was on the home insurance policy.” As we noted in an item last year, also from Texas: “Under the ‘firefighter’s rule,’ which has eroded in some jurisdictions in recent years, emergency rescuers generally cannot sue private parties whose negligence is allegedly to blame for the hazards to which they are responding.” [Lisa Falkenburg, Houston Chronicle]
“Flush with trial lawyer cash, the PAC’s public face is ‘Texans 4 Justice,’ which portrays itself as a conservative grassroots group.” It didn’t work: Texas GOP primary voters yesterday returned incumbent Supreme Court justices. [Texas Observer, Houston Chronicle, earlier]
Related: Plaintiff’s lawyer Steve Mostyn, “omnipresent” in Austin, and his involvement with “Conservative Voters of Texas” [Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
Finally addressing the entrenched social problem of architect-perpetrated crime? Or just the security state running mindlessly forward on its own momentum? David Lancaster of the Texas Society of Architects told a trade newspaper that his group “believed fighting the legislation would be ‘futile.'” [Mike Riggs, Atlantic Cities]
The San Antonio Four, women released after more than a decade of imprisonment over child-abuse crimes they say they never committed, talk to NBC News. “Plea deals were offered, but they refused to accept them on the grounds that they were innocent.” One of the two accusers (pre-teens at the time) has recanted, the other sticks by her story.