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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Court Wrestles with Adverb in Prostitution Case - Law Blog - WSJ

I certainly don't support pimps enslaving minor teen-aged girls in prostitution. And I'm certainly no legal scholar, as are the judges and prosecutors in the case discussed in this article.

But I do consider myself an expert on grammar and writing -- possibly more expert on grammar and writing than the judges and prosecutors involved in this case.

And I think they got it wrong by ignoring the grammar in the law cited for this case (emphasis added):
The law states that whoever “knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in prostitution” shall face at least 10 years in prison.
I suppose it could be argued that knowingly modifies only the verbs that follow it (persuades, educes, entices, coerces) -- meaning that the pimp knows he's persuading, educing, enticing or coercing. But that's absurd, IMHO; of course, he would know he's doing the things he's doing (assuming the prosecutors had evidence of that behavior).

So the adverb knowingly is modifying, correctly, the entire phrase that begins with those verbs -- and that phrase refers to individuals who are teenagers.

I understand and agree with the legitimate judicial distaste for the vile behavior of the pimp. But based on the grammar of the law, I think the prosecutors should have been required to prove the pimp knew the teenage prostitute was indeed less than 18 years old.

Guess I should note that I don't have the advantage of knowing all the legislative and legal background for writing and interpreting the legal citation above. Perhaps that background provides more explanation of what knowingly is modifying (or is supposed to be modifying).
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This article is featured in today's (July 3) Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above -- and by free email subscriptions.

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