Lockhart v United States 577 US (2016)4 

In America, child pornography offences attract extra jail time if X has prior convictions for ‘aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse, or abusive sexual conduct involving a minor’.  X pleaded guilty but had a prior for adult sexual abuse.  Argument raged between 2 technical grammar rules – the ‘last antecedent’ and ‘series qualifier’ rules5.  The former prevailed – that is, ‘involving a minor’ applied only to ‘abusive sexual conduct’.  X got 10 years. 

In Australia, we apply wider purposive principles and don’t get too hung up on grammatical rules6iTip – have regard to punctuation7, but be wary of hanging someone on a comma or its absence8.

This case is from Episode 13 of interpretationNOW!


Read this case for its clear writing, not its legal learning.

5  Scalia & Garner Reading Law (at 144-151).

Gambro [2004] FCA 323 (at [146]), Campbell [1995] 2 VR 654.

Pearce & Geddes (at [4.59]), Bennion (5 ed at 751-758).

8  Chew (1992) 173 CLR 626 (at 648).