Lockhart v. U.S. Opinion Breakdown

Posted: April 13, 2016 by beguide in case summaries, Uncategorized, Updates

Background – Defendant is convicted under a sex crime and is facing a statutory increase in penalty due to a prior sex abuse conviction against an adult.  The sentencing statute has a mandatory minimum penalty when the defendant has a previous charge of “aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct against a minor or ward”.  This case basically comes down to grammar, in that whether or not “minor or ward” applies to all the charges or just abusive sexual conduct.

Lockhart Opinion

Sotomayor majority opinion (5-3)  – The Rule of Last Antecedent states that the limiting clause or phrase should only be read to modify the noun that precedes it.  Therefore, only abusive sexual conduct requires a minor or ward.  Defendant gets the extra punishment.

Kagan dissent – The Series Qualifier Principle requires that the modifier must apply to all items in series when application would represent a natural construction.  This opinion starts to fail when it argues we should read Congressional statutes with an eye toward natural language, because there is no natural language written in Congressional statutes.


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