Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Statutory construction and interpretation, important in every field of law, is vital in a field containing a large number of legislative acts and a considerable body of appellate court decisions construing them. For this reason alone, statutory construction problems are particularly significant in criminal law. Many American jurisdictions punish no activity other than that expressly declared criminal by statute.' The Federal Government, which of course punishes no crimes except those defined by Congress, has contributed to this growth of the criminal law through the imposition of many duties and the proscription of various activities relating to the collection of revenue, national defense, regulation of interstate and foreign commerce and the several other fields into which Federal Government activity is continually expanding. Without the reinforcement of statutory specifications, several states punish conduct which was punishable under common law principles. Even in these jurisdictions, the complexities of our present civilization have required definition of additional conduct the community feels departs from its presently accepted standards. The expansion of state government, also, into fields not previously regulated, and the emergence of many types of conduct unknown to the common law, have made statutory crimes of the first importance.