Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Bit of Advice for Amateur Law-Talkin' Guys

Some tips from a pro:

1) Don't represent yourself in court if you are clueless:

Paul Merritt, a district judge in Lancaster County, Neb., said he knows of cases in which parents lost custody disputes because they were too unfamiliar with such legal standards as burden of proof.

"The plaintiff rests on his pleadings yerhoner, what ever the hell that means."

2) If you title a blog post "The Law in MN" don't cite a statute from California.

3) To the extent you do cite a Minnesota statute - and this is important - BE SURE TO READ THE WHOLE THING AND UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS. For example, if you were discussing Minnesota's statute regarding, say 5th degree assault:

Whoever does any of the following commits an assault and is guilty of a misdemeanor:

(1) commits an act with intent to cause fear in another of immediate bodily harm or death; or

(2) intentionally inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm upon another.

In that statute, the word "immediate" carries the same import as the words "fear," "bodily harm" or "cause". Meaning, if you are in Stillwater and you direct a hearty "fuck you" via a blog's commenting section to someone in Edina, there are so many different ways that that is not assault in the 5th degree. Paramount among them: even if "fuck you" could be considered a threat, there's no way that any purportedly threatened bodily harm could be immediate from such a distance unless you had in your possession an arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles. In fact, I can't imagine any instance in which telling someone "fuck you" would ever constitute assault, unless you happen to be throwing a punch at that person at the same time.

It's a cannon of statutory construction: the legislature means what it says and says what it means; surplussage or accidental omission of language are not to be presumed. (And the passive voice should never be used.)

4) Failure to observe any of 1 through 3 above, will make you look dumb.

Go forth and sin no more.

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