Grammar, Punctuation, and the Law

by | Oct 19, 2017 | Business Law and Litigation |

Looking for an attorney to handle your criminal case, your auto accident, or to draft documents for your business?

Odds are, you are doing your homework and researching the qualifications of different local attorneys. You want to hire the best lawyer in Myrtle Beach. You want to hire an attorney who has gotten results in cases like yours. You want an attorney who is professional, has an excellent reputation, and is respected by other attorneys.

One quality that is often overlooked is an attorney’s ability to focus in on the smallest details while reviewing the evidence in your case or drafting documents for you. For example, do grammar and punctuation really matter in the practice of law?

The Oxford Comma Court Case

A group of dairy drivers in Maine understands how important punctuation and an attorney’s attention to detail can be…

They filed suit to recover overtime pay from their company – the company said that they did not have to pay overtime to their drivers based on a Maine statute that says companies do not have to pay overtime for:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Notice the lack of an Oxford Comma, which would have separated the final two items in the list: “packing for shipment or distribution of.”

The drivers distribute perishable foods, but they do not pack perishable foods. An Oxford comma, placed between the final two items in the list, would have clarified that “packing for shipment” and “distribution of” were two separate items neither of which required overtime pay.

According to the Court, the lack of an Oxford comma results in confusion as to whether they are two separate items on the list, whether they are to be read as one item, or whether one item is intended to modify the other.

The Court found that the language of the statute is ambiguous. Because the labor laws are intended to benefit the laborers, any ambiguity in the statute should be interpreted in favor of the laborers and therefore they are entitled to overtime pay.

Because of an attorney’s attention to detail and knowledge of basic grammar rules, the dairy drivers won their case and got paid…

Can My Case Get Dismissed Because There is a Typo in My Ticket or Arrest Warrant?

Grammar, punctuation, and even factual errors in a charging document like a blue ticket or arrest warrant do not usually result in your case being dismissed.

In most cases, the Court will find that they are “scrivener’s errors” and give them their intended meaning. The Court will usually allow the prosecutor or officer to amend the charging document and correct any typos.

On the other hand, punctuation errors in the text of statutes can result in a dismissal or acquittal at trial. Any ambiguity in SC criminal law must be resolved in favor of the defendant, and a grammar or punctuation error in a statute is never considered a “scrivener’s error” that can be corrected in the courtroom.

For example, a traffic court defendant in Ohio was charged with leaving her pickup truck parked on the street for too long. She was charged under a municipal ordinance that said it is against the law to park “any motor vehicle camper, trailer, farm implement and/or non-motorized vehicle” for longer than 24 hours.

I am pretty sure that they meant to say “any motor vehicle [comma], camper, trailer…” so as to include motor vehicles and campers in the list. But they didn’t. As written, the ordinance applies to “motor vehicle campers” but not “motor vehicles” or “campers.” The defendant was driving a pickup truck, which is not a “motor vehicle camper.”

The Court agreed and dismissed the parking ticket.

Grammar and Punctuation Matter

Whether it is the language used in your Myrtle Beach auto accident complaint or an agreement for services that your business is negotiating, grammar and punctuation matter. In all of our cases, our attorneys strive to pay attention to the details that could end up winning your case.

If you need a personal injury attorney in Myrtle Beach who leaves no stone unturned and who’ll go the extra mile to maximize your chance of winning your case, call (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form.

 

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