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There are several different methods that Salt Lake city attorneys can use to analyze and interpret laws. The two that we’re going to focus on here are Statutory and Case Law. These two methods are related to each other but are entirely different in their nature. Knowing the difference between these methods is important, you may need to be familiar with one over the other in order to get a favorable ruling. So what are the differences between these two methods and how they work in relation to one another? Well, read on and find out…

Statutory Analysis

Statutory Analysis, in its simplest form, is analyzing the letter of the law. However, this is not as easy as it sounds because of how easy it can be to misinterpret the wording of a particular statute. In order to interpret the meaning or wording of a statute or law, there are canons in place. Canons give guidance based on common sense in order to help interpret the meanings of statutes. There are 3 main groups of canons to help interprets a statute:

Textual

Textual canons help to interpret the individual words in a statute in order to help it make more sense. Many canons still go by their original Latin names. These canons include:

  • Plain Meaning — This says that the words in the statute should be translated by using the words in their ordinary English usage.

  • Ejusdem Generis – This translates to “of the same kind, class, or nature”. This means that if a statute contains a list of items or services, then it would be interpreted in a narrow scope. (i.e. “cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.” could not be interpreted to include airplanes.)

  • Redendo singular singulis – Translates to “refers only to the last”. If a list of word is given and has a reference at the end, that reference only refers to the last word on the list. (i.e. “boats, planes, and cars on the road” the reference of “on the road” would refer only to cars and, obviously, not boats or planes.)

Substantive

These canons are used to ensure that interpretations of the statute promote particular values or results of policy. These canons include:

  • Interpretation in Light of Fundamental Values – This ensures that the statute does not violate the fundamental values of society at large.

  • “Indian” Canon – When interpreting statutes, the interpretations must lean liberally in favor of Native Americans.

Deference

Deference canons are used to instruct the court to defer to previous interpretations of a statute when doing their own. Some of these canons are:

  • Avoidance canon – If there are multiple possible interpretations of a statute, then the court should choose the interpretation that conflicts with the constitution the least.

  • Avoiding absurdity – No interpretation of a statute should result in an absurd or unjust result.

Case Law Analysis

Case Law Analysis focuses on the precedents set by previous court rulings, examining how and why the interpretations are what they are. This information can help assist in the current interpretation of statutes. There are different types of precedents that can be used in the interpretation of statutes. These types of precedents are:

Verticality

This is the type of precedent that lower courts must use when interpreting a statute. This is a decision by a higher court that must be used in the interpretation of a statute. There is a hierarchy to the verticality of a precedent, lower courts must defer to the precedent of a county court who defers to the precedent of a state court, and keeps going all the way to the Supreme Court.

Horizontally

Courts must follow precedents set by that court previously. Courts are divided into circuits, when interpreting a statute a court is bound the precedents that were set by that particular circuit’s prior interpretations.

As you can see, Case Law Analysis and Statutory Analysis are similar because they work hand in hand. The difference between them is in where one chooses to start the interpretation of a statute. Statutory Analysis starts with previous interpretations of the law and then moves to precedents if an interpretation cannot be reached. Case Law Analysis starts the interpretation of a statute using precedents and only does initial interpretation if there is not a valid precedent in place.

Stacey Schmidt is lead counsel for the divorce and family law team of Schmidt Law in Salt Lake City, UT. She works hard to ensure that all of her clients receive the most favorable result possible. For more information on the services offered at Schmidt Law, please visit http://sschmidtlaw.wpengine.com/practice-areas/

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