Thursday, December 26, 2013

Plain Meaning Rule (Criminal Law) Definition and Meaning

Plain Meaning Rule

When statutory language is plain and its meaning is clear, courts must give effect to the statute, even if the court feels that the law is somehow unwise or undesirable.

Exception: If the court believes that applying the plain meaning of a statute will lead to injustice, an absurd consequence, or to injustice.


In order to avoid ambiguity, legislatures oftentimes include "definitions" sections located within a statute, which explicitly define the most important terms that are used within that statute. However, sometimes statutes omit these definitions sections entirely, or, more commonly, fail to define a particular term. The plain meaning rule exists to guide courts that are faced with litigation which turns on the meaning of a term that is not defined by the statute, or on that of a word found within a definition itself.

Under the plain meaning rule:  Absent a contrary definition within the statute, words must be given their plain, ordinary and literal meaning. If the words of the statute are clear, they must be applied, even though the intention of the legislator may have been different or the result is somehow harsh or undesirable. The literal rule is what the law actually says instead of what the law was intended to say.

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