Determining a Conjunctive or Disjunctive Statute

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Grammar and the law have a prickly relationship, since much legal jargon seems to defy grammarians' preferences. However, when you are trying to figure out whether the terms of a statute are conjunctive or disjunctive, your middle-school English class notes give you all the help you need.

Conjunctive Versus Disjunctive

When you see a list in a statute, the items are generally joined either by the term "and" or the term "or." If they are joined by "and," the statute is conjunctive. If they are joined by "or," the statute is disjunctive. In conjunctive statutes describing the elements of a crime, for example, every single item on the list must be proved for someone to be found guilty of that crime. In disjunctive statutes, proof of any one of the elements is sufficient.

Examples of Conjunctive and Disjunctive Statutes

One federal statute regarding assault on a mail carrier begins: "(a) Assault. A person who assaults any person having lawful charge, control, or custody of any mail matter or of any money or other property of the United States..." The use of the word "or" in this statute means that you can be charged with the crime if you assault a person in control of any one of the items listed: mail or money or property of the United States. If the term "and" were used instead, you could only be charged for assault under this law if you had done each and every one of the actions listed.

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