Syntactic Ambiguity and Interpretation of Penal Statutes

On the Scope of the Rule of “Superior Responsibility” under Chilean Criminal Law

The article is published in the issue 2/2021 of Diritto penale contemporaneo - Rivista Trimestrale and it can be read here.


Abstract: Theoretical reflection on the proper methods for interpreting penal statutes has been rather insensitive to the interpretative challenge posed by the syntactic ambiguity eventually exhibited by the given legal text. In the realm of Chilean criminal law, one finds a clear example of this in the formulation of the rule of “superior responsibility” under art. 35 of Act No. 20357. By overlooking this ambiguity, one could be led to the assumption that the rule in question would only apply to superiors occupying military positions. The analysis of the specifically syntactic base of the potential indetermination of the legal provision can highlight the semantic and pragmatic factors that ought to contribute to the resolution of that ambiguity. The thus achieved interpretation results in the rule being also applicable to superiors occupying non-military positions.