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Law Wal(l): Interpreting the Interpreted

Following the law is one thing. Interpreting it is a whole new different ball game. It’s like hitting your head onto a brick wall.

Breaking this legal jargon down blow-by-blow, piece-by-piece, “interpretation” is actually defined as “the art or process of determining the intended meaning of a written document, such as a constitution, statute, contract, deed, or will.” The problem is that there will always be grey areas cropping up from whatever’s stated in black and white in that official paper. These are the ambiguities that attorneys and lawyers elucidate in their own terms distorting or perhaps, the politically-correct expression is using these (legitimate truths and half-truths) to their advantage with gusto.

By the way, according to lawyeredu.org, “An attorney actually practices law in court whereas a lawyer may or may not. An attorney has passed the bar exam and has been approved to practice law in his jurisdiction. Although the terms often operate as synonyms, an attorney is a lawyer but a lawyer is not necessarily an attorney.” Now that you know the distinction between the two, welcome them as the arresting characters in the court drama of legality. And, believe me, they know how to act their part very well.

In “Stupid is Forever,” the late Filipina senator and graft buster Miriam Defensor Santiago messed around about the difference between politicians and citizens during so-called investigations in aid of legislation. According to her, during these hearings, when private individuals lie under oath, they will be held liable for “perjury” which is “the crime of telling lies in court when you have promised to tell the truth” and nothing but the truth, facing “a possible prison sentence of at least one year plus fines and probation.” But, when honourable senators and congressmen lie throughout these inquiries, they are simply doing their jobs while enjoying their 30-second (more like 3 hours) (of fame) in the limelight. To highlight the connection, most of these distinguished ladies and gentlemen sitting atop the bureaucratic hierarchy (including the presidential appointees) are lawyers. Even the current Philippine president is a lawyer who worked as a prosecutor once in his public service career. Meaning, they are masters of fibbing…err…at least from the joking standpoint of MDS.

Going back to the essence of universal legal interpretation, basically, it “may be based on the literal reading of a document.” Citing an example, when Joseph Aragones signs a last will and testament naming his wife, Irene Aragones, as the sole beneficiary of his estates and enterprises, “there is no need to consider the surrounding facts and circumstances that went into his choice.” Matters get tricky when the words in that authorized text are “obscure” relying on “conjecture” to make sense out of them. This is when “mixed interpretation occurs.” In this case, if Joseph Aragones only states “my wife” in the will without mentioning the exact name of this person, then, attorneys and judges will have a field day in ascertaining the identity of his wife at the time of his death as administered by “the rules of construction.” Hence, there might be multiple females who can fit the bill as there could be a legal wife, a common-law partner (The Philippine president can definitely relate to this case.) or whatsoever the rule of law calls it. Put in the right perspective, “the general definition of a word (case in point, wife) will govern interpretation unless through custom, usage, or legal precedent, a special meaning has been attached to the term (https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/interpretation).”

On the other hand, the more specific and contentious “statutory interpretation is the process by which courts interpret and apply legislation.” Because “written laws passed by legislative bodies (statutes)” are most of the time vague, a great deal of interpretation is truly of utmost importance. This constitutional practice “first became significant in common law systems of which England is the exemplar.” In the case of offences under criminal statutes, “mens rea” (Latin for guilty mind) is a required presumption. This “is the mental element of a person’s intention to commit a crime” which is usually being dissected and uncovered by the calculating genius of shrewd but at times crafty attorneys to the detriment of either the accused or the plaintiff, whoever has the less cunning legal representative.

In Sweet v Parsley, a landlady, who is the respondent in this English criminal law case, allowed some students to use her farmhouse which she rarely visited. Unknown to her, the students used her land in smoking marijuana. Thus, she was held “liable without fault” under a 1965 Act “of having been concerned in the management of premises used for smoking cannabis.” The conviction was overruled by the House of Lords on the basis that knowledge of the property’s misuse was vital to the crime. “Since she had no such knowledge, she didn’t commit the offence.”

In synthesizing these bewildering facts, I can now understand better why (some or most) suspects give the “I’m crazy” alibi since being in this mental state means not being conscious of the obvious crime they have committed. Therefore, they did not commit any offence. They go to a mental hospital instead of getting the death sentence or life imprisonment which is way better…on their end.

I’m just wondering how one could turn crazy one day after being clinically sane from day 1 until that particular day? Maybe the same way how (allegedly) corrupt government officials in the Philippines suddenly become chronically sick during the trial and especially on the day they are found guilty of high profile graft charges.

No surprises here. These convicted bureaucrats (majority of which are oppositionists of the current administration) will always claim that they are victims of biased and misguided verdicts. We would constantly hear that the Regional Trial Court and the Supreme Court are under the president’s payroll, etcetera, and etcetera. The real cause? Might be how the law is interpreted.

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