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View Poll Results: Which should we put more value in, regarding the legal process:
The "Spirit" of the Law 12 60.00%
The "Letter" of the Law 8 40.00%
Voters: 20. You may not vote on this poll

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Old 09-08-2009, 11:40 AM   #1
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Spirt of the Law or Letter of the Law? Which are you?

Ok so I've been curious what the general MH's outlook on this topic was for a while now so I present you all with what I consider a very important question- it tell us where we are as a society and how closely we are in alignment with the thoughts, as it pertains to law and the legal process, as our forefathers. The question is this: Are you one who believes we should consider, within the legal process, the "spirit" of the law or should we adhere strictly to the "letter" of the law?

Discuss below...
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Old 09-08-2009, 11:46 AM   #2
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Old 09-08-2009, 11:51 AM   #3
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While I'm not an attny myself, I believe that the judicial system does allow a judge to rule within the "spirit of the law" and not directly by the letter. If it was only by the letter then the Supreme Court Justices would have an easy job of just looking things up and not having to interpret it.

My opinion on your question is that a judge should consider the spirit of the law. How much though is what often defines someone a liberal judge or a conservative judge.
Yeah, although I see potential pitfalls in both, I see more danger in strictly following the letter of the law because as we all know, nothing in life is black and white, it is often shades of gray.
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:02 PM   #4
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Empathy should be used in sentencing, not in convicting.
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:08 PM   #5
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Quote:
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Empathy should be used in sentencing, not in convicting.
I wouldn't advocate empathy, rather, a keen awareness of what the original and quintessential intent of the law in question was and how it was intended to be applied as opposed to imposing a blanket logic on any and all circumstances.
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:21 PM   #6
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It has be left up to the letter of the law. If the letter isn't right and/or allows for loop holes, then that law needs to be changed. In theory spirit of the law sounds great, but if you really dive into it and look at all the implications with the spirit of the law, it is clear to me that is not a good route to go. In short, I would see even more judicial activism if judges went with the spirit opposed to the letter.
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:49 PM   #7
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It has be left up to the letter of the law. If the letter isn't right and/or allows for loop holes, then that law needs to be changed. In theory spirit of the law sounds great, but if you really dive into it and look at all the implications with the spirit of the law, it is clear to me that is not a good route to go. In short, I would see even more judicial activism if judges went with the spirit opposed to the letter.
Very interesting (good) point...I can definitely see where the "spirit" faction opens itself to exploitation. While I see this, I often wonder if it wasn't for the "spirit" faction, we wouldn't see much of the progress that we've made as a nation such as the abolition of slavery, blacks being considered full citizens, blacks and women being allowed to vote, etc.

In the Dredd Scott v Sanford case (1857), the judge only seems to follow what he saw as the law (to the letter) regardless of what principles were given us in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution itself, along with the supplemental Federalist Papers, which spoke to the inalienable right of "all" men to liberty.

I'm of the mind that one must consider both (one for structure, one for the grayness that is oft our reality) and I am wishing I had placed a third option...

Read the Decision which said that slaves were "so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect".
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Old 09-08-2009, 12:58 PM   #8
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Judges should go by the letter.

Juries 'could' consider both, but should stick to the letter except where egregious violations of common sense have landed an innocent person in court.
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Old 09-08-2009, 01:51 PM   #9
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Quote:
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Judges should go by the letter.

Juries 'could' consider both, but should stick to the letter except where egregious violations of common sense have landed an innocent person in court.
Agreed.

Most jurors are not aware that there is such a thing as jury nullification. This is a basically a statement by the jury that, "We’ve looked at the big picture here and we are refusing to convict." Nullification allows the jury to not hand down a conviction even if a technical violation of the law has occurred. It honors the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. It is a check against prosecutors who, if they really wanted to, could manufacture technical crimes against most people if they look hard enough and spend enough money.
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:10 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thermalser View Post
Agreed.

Most jurors are not aware that there is such a thing as jury nullification. This is a basically a statement by the jury that, "We’ve looked at the big picture here and we are refusing to convict." Nullification allows the jury to not hand down a conviction even if a technical violation of the law has occurred. It honors the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. It is a check against prosecutors who, if they really wanted to, could manufacture technical crimes against most people if they look hard enough and spend enough money.
Exactly what I was thinking. Thanks for making it technical. Of course, this works in reverse as well. O.J. was the beneficiary of Jury nullification when they decided to acquit, lol. For the most part, though, unless you have a Nifong (Duke Lacrosse) or other pretty ugly problem with a prosecutor, the letter has got to be followed. If legislators do their jobs properly and write laws that are sufficiently thought through, I don't really see this whole letter vs. spirit thing as a big issue.
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:18 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Intrinzik View Post
Exactly what I was thinking. Thanks for making it technical. Of course, this works in reverse as well. O.J. was the beneficiary of Jury nullification when they decided to acquit, lol. For the most part, though, unless you have a Nifong (Duke Lacrosse) or other pretty ugly problem with a prosecutor, the letter has got to be followed. If legislators do their jobs properly and write laws that are sufficiently thought through, I don't really see this whole letter vs. spirit thing as a big issue.
O.J. was found not guilty. Not the same thing.
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:22 PM   #12
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Sean, if you're really searching for some general consensus within our society on the matter of how we should interpret the law, I think you're asking in the wrong place.

But, these sort of questions always seem to produce an........interesting......conversation here in motorcycle world.

As for me, I'd like to see the letter of the law enforced a little more. Too many people get away with some serious , i.e.- DUIs/DWIs. Too many "slap on the wrists" for my liking.

Although, one could argue, if we want the law interpreted strictly against the letter, so to speak, then why do we vote for judges to the bench? I suppose you could answer that with, "Well, I think he/she will judge more appropriately using strict adherence to the law".

But again.....wrong place to ask homey, if you're really searching for a true consensus. (I know you know, I just felt like stating the obvious)
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:31 PM   #13
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Although, one could argue, if we want the law interpreted strictly against the letter, so to speak, then why do we vote for judges to the bench? I suppose you could answer that with, "Well, I think he/she will judge more appropriately using strict adherence to the law".
First Chief Justice of the US John Jay wrote: "It is presumed, that juries are the best judges of facts; it is, on the other hand, presumed that courts are the best judges of law. But still both objects are within your power of decision... you [juries] have a right to take it upon yourselves to judge of both, and to determine the law as well as the fact in controversy". State of Georgia v. Brailsford, 3 U.S. 1, 4 (1794)
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Old 09-08-2009, 02:42 PM   #14
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Quote:
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O.J. was found not guilty. Not the same thing.
Acquit = not guilty.

Words are your friends.

I was being sarcastic.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:05 PM   #15
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Quote:
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Acquit = not guilty.

Words are your friends.

I was being sarcastic.
Not the same thing as jury nullification. Also, notice that the finding is "not guilty" which is a failure to convict and not a declaration of innocence.

Regardless of how outraged one may be at the outcome of the first OJ trial, none of us viewed the proceedings from the point of view of the jury. We saw and were privy to much that is filtered from the jury's view. They are provided only a very narrow, carefully crafted window from which to view the facts. It's entirely possible that any rational, objective jurist would arrive at the same conclusion had they been fed the exact same filtered testimony that the jury received.

As to the original question, I stick with the letter of the law for criminal trials, as I do not trust lawyers ability to interpret "intent" in any venue. I would be open to some more limited interpretation in the appeals process. I agree that the jury has the final call as they are the only true representatives of "the people".
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:38 PM   #16
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Quote:
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Not the same thing as jury nullification. Also, notice that the finding is "not guilty" which is a failure to convict and not a declaration of innocence.

Guys. It was a joke. The jury can know someone is guilty and acquit for other reasons. In this case they "nullified" the state's attempt to successfully ensure O.J. takes it up the for the rest of his life. I guess it was a bad joke if nobody go it....or you all are waaaay too serious....or just pretentious. Come on.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:44 PM   #17
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Letter of the law.
If you accept "spirit of the law" than you leave it open to interpretation.
For example the 2nd amendment, the slippery slope comes when Pelosi's interpretation is different than say Gingrich's.
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Old 09-08-2009, 04:57 PM   #18
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Guys. It was a joke. The jury can know someone is guilty and acquit for other reasons. In this case they "nullified" the state's attempt to successfully ensure O.J. takes it up the for the rest of his life. I guess it was a bad joke if nobody go it....or you all are waaaay too serious....or just pretentious. Come on.

Oh I get it now. Whenever you put lol in a statement it gives you the option of later saying that it was a joke, no matter how stupid the statement was to begin with. lol lol lol
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:00 PM   #19
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Quote:
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Letter of the law.
If you accept "spirit of the law" than you leave it open to interpretation.
For example the 2nd amendment, the slippery slope comes when Pelosi's interpretation is different than say Gingrich's.
Not necessarily, the 2nd Amendment was specifically so that the peope could defend against a tyrannical government- this, in my mind would be a spirit of the law approach. To approach it literally (or by the letter) would conceivably serve to limit us to muskets. The notion of the spirit of the 2nd Amendment, as I see it, is validated by Federalist Paper #46 where James Madison stated:

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Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments,to which the people are attached, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will and direct the national force, and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments, and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.
Liberal's/Democrats typically interpret the right to bear arms as an archaic mechanism constructed during a period where Americans had to defend their property (from Indians and other insurgents) and don't see the need for it today because the weapons are so powerful when the reality was that the point all along was for teh people to be able to address a tyranical government.

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Oh I get it now. Whenever you put lol in a statement it gives you the option of later saying that it was a joke, no matter how stupid the statement was to begin with. lol lol lol
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Old 09-08-2009, 05:04 PM   #20
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Not necessarily, the 2nd Amendment was specifically so that the peope could defend against a tyrannical government- this, in my mind would be a spirit of the law approach. To approach it literally (or by the letter) would conceivably serve to limit us to muskets. The notion of the spirit of the 2nd Amendment, as I see it, is validated by Federalist Paper #46 where James Madison stated:
Funny, I didn't notice in the letter of the second amendment that it was specifically "so the people could defend against a tyrannical government" or that it specified muskets. Literal interpretation would say that the people should be able to be armed for whatever reason and with whatever arms they chose whenever and wherever they chose.
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