Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Dictionary Knows How Much Privacy You Should Expect

The case is State v. Nelson, 2006 WL 1420832 (Wis. App. May 25, 2006). The age-old constitutional question is whether a defendant has a "reasonable expectation of privacy" that was violated by overzealous law enforcement officers. (This is kind of funny, since they try to make it look like they’re relying on the common law by citing to a case to fall back a dictionary)...
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The phrase "reasonable expectation of privacy" is not defined in Wis. Stat. § 942.09, nor are the individual words. However, the words "expectation of privacy" have a common meaning that can be ascertained with reference to a standard dictionary. See State v. Sample, 215 Wis.2d 487, 499-500, 573 N.W.2d 187 (1998) (we may consult a standard dictionary to determine the common meaning of words). The applicable common meaning of "privacy" is: "1.a. the quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others." American Heritage College Dictionary 1089 (3d ed.1993). The applicable common meaning of "expectation" is "7: assumption." Webster's Third International Dictionary, Unabridged 799 (1993). Thus, according to common usage "expectation of privacy" means an assumption that one is secluded from the presence or view of others...
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In
County of Jefferson v. Renz, 222 Wis.2d 424, 435-36, 588 N.W.2d 267 (Ct.App.1998), rev'd on appeal on other grounds at 231 Wis.2d 293, 603 N.W.2d 541 (1999), we consulted a dictionary to determine the meaning of "excessive" in the prohibition against "excessive noise" in Wis. Stat. § 347.39(1) (1995-96). We determined "excessive" meant "unreasonable," and we concluded that the concept of reasonableness in the context of the statute was sufficiently definite to avoid vagueness. Renz, 222 Wis.2d at 435-36.