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INTERPRETATION Definition & Legal Meaning

Definition & Citations:

The art or process of discovering and expounding the intended signification of the language used iu a statute, will, contract, or any other written document, that is, the meaning which the author designed it to convey to others. People v. Com’rs of Taxes, 95 N. Y. 559; Rome v. Knox, 14 How. Prac. (N. Y.) 272; Ming v. Pratt, 22 Mont. 202, 56 Pac. 279; Tallman v. Tallman, 3 Misc. Rep. 465, 23 N. Y. Supp. 734. The discovery and representation of the true meaning of any signs used to convey ideas. Lieb. Herm. “Construction” is a term of wider scope than “interpretation ;” for, while the hitter is concerned only with ascertaining the sense and meaning of the subject-matter, the former may also be directed to explaining the legal effects and consequences of the instrument in question. Hence interpretation precedes construction, but stops at the written text. Close interpretation (interpretatio restricto) is adopted if just reasons, connected with the formation and character of the text, induce us to take the words in their narrowest meaning. This species of interpretation has generally been called “literal,” but the term is inadmissible. Lieb. Herm. 54. Extensive interpretation (interpretatio extensiva, called, also, “liberal interpretation”) adopts a more comprehensive signification of the word. Id. 58. Extravagant interpretation (interpretatio excedens) is that which substitutes a meaning evidently beyond the true one. It is therefore not genuine interpretation. Id. 59. Free or unrestricted interpretation (interpretatio soluta) proceeds simply on the general principles of Interpretation in good faith, not bound by any specific or superior principle. Id. 59. Limited or restricted interpretation (interpretatio limitata) is when we are influenced by other principles than the strictly hermeneutic ones. Id. 60. Predestined interpretation (interpretatio predestinata) takes place if the interpreter, laboring under a strong bias of mind, makes the text subservient to his preconceived views or desires. This includes artful interpretation, (interpretatio vafcr.) by which the interpreter seeks to give a meaning to the text other than the one he knows to have been intended. Id. 00. It is said to be either “legal,” which rests on the same authority as the law itself, or “doctrinal,” which rests upon its intrinsic reasonableness. Legal interpretation may be either “authentic,” when it is expressly provided by the legislator, or “usual,” when it is derived from unwritten practice. Doctrinal interpretation may turn on the meaning of words and sentences, when it is called “grammatical,” or on the intention of the legislator, when it is described as “logical.” When logical interpretation stretches the words of a statute to cover its obvious meaning, it is called “extensive;” when, on the other hand, it avoids giving full meaning to the words, in order not to go beyond the intention of the legislator, it is called “restrictive.” Holl. Jur. 344. As to strict and liberal interpretation, see CONSTRUCTION. In the civil law, authentic interpretation of laws is that given by the legislator himself, which is obligatory on the courts. Customary interpretation (also called “usual”) is that which arises from successive or concurrent decisions of the court on the same subject-matter, having regard to the spirit of the law, jurisprudence, usages, and equity; as distinguished from “authentic” interpretation, which is that given by the legislator himself. Houston v. Robertson, 2 Tex. 26.


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