August 27, 2005

No more inveigling in California courts

No more inveigling in California courts, according to a story by AP legal affairs writer David Kravets that appeared on 8/25/05 in the San Francisco Chronicle:

When California jurors sit on kidnapping cases, judges will no longer be required to explain that the perpetrator had to "inveigle" his victim.

Instead, as part of an eight-year effort to simplify jury instructions, the judge may say it like it is -- "enticed" his victim.

The new guidelines also revise the characterizations of (among others) "reasonable doubt" and "mitigation" and, in a move objected to by many prosecutors, has them referred to as "prosecutors" rather than as "the people".  Though the changes are modest (intentionally so, according to lawyer-linguist Peter Tiersma, who helped craft them), some judges maintain that they "dumb down the justice process", an accusation that would be hard to make stick on the basis of the examples Kravets provides; "entice" for "inveigle", for instance, is scarcely a giant step away from judicial clarity and towards street speech.

A Google web search gives ca. 74,800 hits for "inveigle" in its various forms, vs. ca. 4,740,000 for "entice" in its various forms, so "inveigle" seems to be enormously less frequent -- less familiar -- than "entice".  The disparity is much greater than this, though, since a huge number of the "inveigle" hits are mentions rather than uses -- they're from discussions of the meaning of "inveigle", including as a legal term -- and many more are uses in specifically legal contexts.  Not that "inveigle" lacks ordinary-language uses; consider "He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat / To view his collection of stamps" (Flanders and Swann, "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear") and many everyday occurrences like these:

... as per usual, was one poor SOB trying to inveigle shoppers into buying ...   (Leah Garchik, "The In Crowd" Column, San Francisco Chronicle, April 14)

inveigle yourself into the homes and wineries of a few big names whose egos ...   (link)

Still, "entice" is probably a small improvement on "inveigle".

The changes seem to be mostly in vocabulary.  For instance, the old version defines "mitigation" as

any fact, condition or event which does not constitute a justification or excuse for the crime in question, but may be considered as an extenuating circumstance in determining the appropriateness of the death penalty

which is now

any fact, condition, or event that makes the death penalty less appropriate as a punishment, even though it does not legally justify an excuse for the crime

This maintains the two-clause syntax, with coordination replaced by subordination, and it reverses the order of the proviso (about not justifying the crime) and the main part of the definition (about allowing certain factors to be taken into account), in favor of putting the main part first, which is surely an improvement.  It also reduces the nominalization quotient a bit, by replacing "justification" by "justify" and "appropriateness" by "appropriate".  And it replaces the restrictive relativizer "which" by "that", which could be seen as either as a move towards informal English or as a move towards prescriptively standard English, depending on who you read.

But mostly what it tries to do is unpack the meaning of the term of art "extenuating circumstance".

Another change tries to unpack "innocent misrecollection", also a term of art (ca. 447 Google webhits, all of them apparently in legal contexts), via replacing

Innocent misrecollection is not uncommon.


People sometimes honestly forget things or make mistakes about what they remember.

More side-by-side comparisons in Kravets's article.

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at August 27, 2005 01:43 PM