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Construction

statute meaning ambiguous court

The process by which the meaning of an ambiguous provision of a statute, written document, or oral agreement is determined.

A judge usually makes a construction of an unclear term in a document at issue in a case that involves a dispute as to its legal significance. The judge examines the circumstances surrounding the provision, laws, other writings, verbal agreements dealing with the same subject matter, and the probable purpose of the unclear phrase in order to conclude the proper meaning of such words. Once the judge has done so, the court will enforce the words as construed. However, for language that is plain and clear, there cannot be a construction.

When ambiguous language is given its exact and technical meaning, and no other equitable considerations or reasonable implications are made, there has been a strict or literal construction of the unclear term.

A liberal or equitable construction permits a term to be reasonably and fairly evaluated so as to implement the object and purpose for which the document is designed. This does not mean that the words will be strained beyond their natural or customary meanings.

A rule of construction is a principle that either governs the effect of the ascertained intention of a document or agreement containing an ambiguous term or establishes what a court should do if the intention is neither express nor implied.A regular pattern of decisions concerning the application of a particular provision of a statute is a rule of construction that governs how the text is to be applied in similar cases.

The constitutionality of an ambiguous statute is a QUESTION OF LAW and a matter of construction within the province of the court. The meaning of the language of the statute must be determined in light of its objectives, purposes, and practical effect as a whole. If a statute is so ambiguous that a judge cannot make a reasonable construction of its disputed provisions, and a reasonable person could not determine from reading it what the law orders or prohibits, it is VOID FOR VAGUENESS because it violates the guarantee of DUE PROCESS OF LAW.

Some states have codified terms that had in the past been subject to repeated judicial construction. The need for court proceedings to determine the real meaning of some terms has been eliminated by enactment of statutes that give specific meanings—such as specifying that "calendar day" means a twenty-four hour period starting on midnight of one date and ending midnight of the next day.

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