University of the District of Columbia Law Review


Carolyn Singh


For centuries, courts have dealt with the challenge of imposing penalties for crimes when governing law changes. Applying the new provisions can be a straightforward exercise for courts, but when legislatures are ambiguous with regard to which law applies-forexample, to pending cases-the courts are forced to interpret what legislatures intended. For some judges, the answer is easily found in the plain meaning of the text. For others, legislative intent can become the deciding factor. Throughout United States history, this has been a manageable yet controversial task, but aside from interpretive differences among judges, creating laws with uncertainty is a dangerous policy that legislatures should end. Because some cases with the most adverse effects involve federal criminal statutes, this paper argues that in light of the high stakes involved for criminal defendants, clear statutory language is required for the efficient administration of justice. It does so by first examining consequences of statutory ambiguity and the Fair Sentencing Act of2010 (FSA),' which was enacted after almost twenty-four years of an unfair law taking effect.

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