Construction refers to the process of interpreting a law or a legal document, such as a contract or will. Construction is necessary when the plain language of a law or legal document is ambiguous, or the intent of its authors is unclear or conflicting. In the context of statutory interpretation, courts may apply a narrow construction, which adheres closely to the literal meaning of the words or their specific usage when the statute in question was crafted. Conversely, the court may adopt a broad construction, which interprets the language of a law beyond its literal meaning, but in a manner consistent with what the court believes is the intent of its authors. In criminal law, a court may apply the rule of lenity, which requires that an ambiguous criminal statute be strictly construed against the State and in favor of the defendant. The Supreme Court case Muscarello v. United States, where the Court had to interpret the meaning of the phrase “carries a firearm,” provides an example of the rationales for adopting a narrow or broad construction.
[Last updated in June of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]