Judicial Language Project
People v. Miramontes (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) (October 24, 2007)
(Case summary by Zoe Paolantonio, law student )
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- Nature of the Case: This case is about the sexual abuse of a child.
- Facts: This defendant appealed from his conviction for continuous sexual abuse of a child.
- Problematic Language: "Appellant touched the victim's leg instead of her private parts."
- Explanation of Problem: The use of the term “private parts” is harmful because it minimizes and disguises the nature of the harm. The term is vague because it does not let the reader know the exact nature of the abuse. For example, a "private part" could refer to vagina or buttocks and could indicate external contact rather than penetration. It is important for the court to use an accurate description of what happened to the victim in order to show the extent and severity of the harm.
Use of a term like “private parts” is also harmful because we commonly associate the term with language used by children. This minimizes the harm and thus minimizes the defendant’s culpability.
- Suggested Alternatives: Instead of using the term "private parts" the court should say "the victim's vagina" or "labia" or "the victim's anus" or "buttocks". These terms are clearer and more clinical. Thus, they express with greater precision than "private parts" exactly what happened during the crime, allowing the reader to understand the full extent of the defendant's culpability and the nature of the harm.