Judicial Language Project
People v. Lambert, 2007 WL 404180 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) (February 7, 2007)
(Case summary by Katie Meyer, law student )
Return to List
- Nature of the Case: Johnnie Harold Lambert was convicted of two counts of child molestation. The defendant appealed his conviction and the Appellate court affirmed.
- Facts: The defendant was an adult male and the victim was the 11-year old daughter of a friend with whom he was living. The defendant was accused of four separate incidents of sexual abuse over a period of a year.
- Problematic Language: "The Kissing Incident"
"He leaned over her, tried to kiss her, and tried to put his tongue in her mouth"
"The Tickling Incident"
"He tickled J.D. on her vagina, on top of her pajamas, three or four times."
- Explanation of Problem: The use of the words "kissed," and "tickled" are needlessly gentle and inappropriate terms to describe criminal abuse. Language that is typically used to describe an enjoyable act disguises the violent nature of the conduct. As a result, it suggests that the act was nonharmful or even enjoyable. (Bavaelas, Janet and Coates, Linda, "Is it Sex or Assault: Erotic Versus Violent Language in Sexual Assault Trial Judgment," Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, (10), pp. 29-40 (Nov. 2001)). Such language also improperly implies a degree of eroticism because kissing has sexualized features. "Is it Sex or Assault: Erotic Versus Violent Language in Sexual Assault Trial Judgment," Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, (10), pp. 29-40 (Nov. 2001). This language obscures the defendant's culpability by assigning some degree of pleasure to the victim. (Bohner, G. "Writing About Rape," British Journal of Social Psychology, (40), pp. 515-529 (2001)).
The court's use of "The Kissing Incident" and "The Tickling Incident" as subject headings add to the problem because the idea is conveyed that the court viewed entire episodes of criminal sexual abuse of a child as relatively harmless events. In short, "The Kissing Incident" could just as easily have been the chapter of a title in a romance novel.
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of "kiss", the court could use language such as "he forced/placed his mouth on the child's mouth."
Instead of using the verb "tickled," the court should use language which describes the violent nature of the act more appropriately such as "He had forcible manual contact with the victim's vagina."