Legal Word of the Day
Entry: Distinguish
Pronunciation: dis - ting - gwish
Definition: to note a difference in one case from another; such as the difference in a fact, procedure, or law in an earlier case from a current case
Judges and lawyers constantly distinguish between legal and factual differences – it’s a main part of their jobs. So, how might this actually work? Let’s go over a brief example to illustrate.

Distinguish - Example

Assume that Blake is caught stealing a purse from an old lady and charged with theft. Blake stole the purse in order to take the old women’s money and jewels. Judge Kilbert finds Blake guilty of theft and sentences him to 3 months in jail and orders him to pay restitution (i.e. pay back all the money and jewels that he stole to the old women).

A few weeks later Nolan is caught taking a purse from an old lady and also charged with theft. Nolan hires a lawyer and Judge Kilbert hears his case too. The lawyer argues that Nolan is not guilty of theft because his case is distinguishable from Blake’s case. The lawyer states that in Blake’s case Blake stole the purse with the intent to take the woman’s money and jewels. However, the lawyer argues that Nolan did not take the purse with the intent to take any money or other valuable possessions. Rather, Nolan took the purse by accident because he thought it was his wife’s purse. Nolan also returned the purse to the old woman with all the belongings after he realized it was not his wife’s purse.

Here, the main distinguishing fact is that Nolan did not take the purse with the intent to steal but actually thought the purse was his wife’s purse. The lawyer distinguished the facts between Blake’s case and Nolan’s case. As you can see, the ability to distinguish is essential to being a good lawyer (and good judge). Because the lawyer was able to distinguish the facts between Blake and Nolan, Nolan may receive a less severe penalty than Blake (or no penalty at all).