Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shooting into a structure from within it

The Statutory Construction Blog points out this Pennsylvania opinion which asks whether one can shoot into a building that one already occupies. The court holds that one can't, since "the plain meaning of the term “into” requires that the original location is outside of the destination."

The statute in question declares the following:

A person commits an offense if he knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly discharges a firearm from any location into an occupied structure.

Unfortunately, the court resorts to looking up "into" in the dictionary, but in this case the practice did not lead the court to the wrong result.

The government's main argument was that "from any location" is so broad that it must include any place inside the occupied structure.

I think the court got it right. If "from any location" is taken literally, we have a contradiction between this phrase and "into," which either makes the law self-contradictory, or requires that the law be constructed or interpreted in a non-contradictory way. In this case, there is no need for the court to construct a rule, because pragmatic principles of interpretation plainly allow us to limit "from any location" to mean "from any location outside the structure." The domain of "any" is more flexible than the requirement that the path described by "into" start outside of the locational reference point.

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