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Juvenile or adult? Leap-year suspect poses conundrum for court (abc.net.au)
64 points by hugh-avherald 67 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments



I'm a marriage celebrant here in Australia and a couple must, by law, give "one month" notice before they wish to be married.

This is surprisingly complicated. A good percentage of the training and the accreditation were related to the calculation of this month.

The Attorney General's Department sent out a fact-sheet earlier this year, clarifying "one month" and giving a bunch of examples. A few months later they updated the fact sheet: I think even they had messed it up first time round.

I'm pretty sure there's an Act which specifically defines this, and I think it goes back many decades. Alas, I can't be bothered finding it now because I have to go to the pub. ;-)

Edit: here we go. The marvellously named "Acts Interpretation Act" of 1901 (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016C00691).

2G Months

(1) In any Act, month means a period:

(a) starting at the start of any day of one of the calendar months; and

(b) ending:

(i) immediately before the start of the corresponding day of the next calendar month; or

(ii) if there is no such day—at the end of the next calendar month.

Example 1: A month starting on 15 December in a year ends immediately before 15 January in the next year.

Example 2: A month starting on 31 August in a year ends at the end of September in that year (because September is the calendar month coming after August and does not have 31 days).


A typical case of making something more complex than needed. They could have simply used a window of time specified as no less than 30 days and no more than 45 days. That would have solved the problem in an elegant and robust way.


Or simpler, just get rid of whatever moralising has lead to that law and just accept that some people want to get married now.


It need not be moralising at all. In many countries for pretty much every "life changing" contract such as marriage, buying a house, changing the will, etc. there's a cool down period that tries to prevent being rushed to do such things.

Also here in (some cantons of) Switzerland, during the month of notice you have to give to get married, the names of the couple is published so that people can protest the marriage if they know it's not a legal one, which is for sure something some people can find odious but it's not done for moralising but for practical purposes.


The reason is not a moralizing one, it came into being when the registries were less than perfect to avoid bigamy. It probably could be abandoned in the present day without any loss of functionality but it definitely was not codified into law for moralizing reasons.


Isn't bigamy typically a religious moral?


No, it is a legal one. There are pretty substantial consequences, for instance with inheritance and paternity.


Isn’t avoiding bigamy moralizing?


Not necessarily pertinent here.

Think of it this way: If bigamy was legal, you would still want to at least know if you were the only spouse or one of several. A lack of reliable and readily accessible records makes deception all too easy.

Marriage is a contract. Agreeing to a mutually exclusive arrangement only to find out it isn't is a problem, even if you don't think polygamy should be illegal.

I don't know what percentage of the time bigamists are deceiving their spouses and married to someone else "behind their back," but that's certainly a version of events that happens and it makes everyone involved pretty unhappy to find out they aren't the only one.

This is typically done by someone who travels for work. It was much easier to pull off before our current state of global communications.


The term "month" will be used in lots of legislations and other official documents. That wording above is a general definition that applies to any Acts containing the term "month" and not just for the marriage notification.


What about in the case of daylight savings? Do you need to add an extra hour?


You can set the ending time at 19:00 or 24:00 or whenever you want, which you have to do even if you base the period on months rather than days.

Daylight savings time switches happen in the middle of the night, IIRC at 2am or 3am.


> immediately before the start of the corresponding day

A month ends at the end of a day, regardless of the length of that day or any other day during the month.


The point is... you're now having to make the definition more complex.

The OP's request was to make it simpler.

With time, you often can't do that without edge cases.


Even simpler, just four weeks ignoring daylight saving time.


IANAL, but given this case is in an ACT court the ACT’s Legislation Act 2001 [0] (perhaps better named than ‘Acts Interpretation Act 1901’) is probably the more relevant piece of legislation in this case, and defines a ‘month’ like this:

  "month" means a period beginning at the start of any day of one of the calendar months and ending—

  (a) immediately before the start of the corresponding day of the next calendar month; or

  (b) if there is no such corresponding day—at the end of the next calendar month.

  Examples

  1 The period beginning at the start of 8 May 2014 and ending at midnight on 7 June 2014 is a month.

  2 The period beginning at the start of 30 January 2014 and ending at midnight on 28 February 2014 is a month. The month ends on the last day of February because in that year, February does not have a day corresponding to 29 January (because 2014 is not a leap year). If the period began at the start of 30 January 2016 (ie a leap year), the month would end at midnight on 29 February 2016.

  Note: An example is part of the Act, is not exhaustive and may extend, but does not limit, the meaning of the provision in which it appears (see Legislation Act, s 126 and s 132).
Example 2 is extremely relevant.

[0] http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/act/conso...


I see no mention of timezones. I can see complications arising from that, given Australia spans a few timezones.

Time is complicated when it comes to implementing strict rules. There will always be situations that can be interpreted in more than one way. This is why laws need not only the letter (what) but also the spirit (the why). When the letter of the law proves ambiguous, the spirit can be used to come up with a resolution.


What I’ve quoted is just the definition of a ‘month’ in legislation in the ACT. Time zones are dealt with in other parts of the Act and other legislation.

But yes, time is complicated, especially when multiple jurisdictions are involved.


I really wish there was an ACT Acts Interpretation Act.


Fascinating that they don't use the same "immediately before" language under (ii) - that seems to provide clarity that it's at the end of the day not the start of the day but no such clarify exists for (ii) though could probably be assumed.


(ii) explicitly states at the end of the month, which unambiguously specifies that the period ends when the month does. (i) uses “immediately before” language because it is referencing the numerically corresponding day of the next calendar month after the start day. In both cases they seem to be taking the simplest unambiguous description.


I thought it was a month and a day notice you had to give.


tell me there's an "acts interpretation act" interpretation. or even "acts interpretation act" interpretation act.


It's a fun problem to reason about mathematically, but it's totally irrelevant to the case in my opinion.

· Becoming an adult at 18.00 (vs. 17.98) years of age is a vague and somewhat arbitrary threshold. If we define it as "knowing right from wrong" and "knowing that your actions have consequences" in the context of the code of law, then a couple of days are not going to have a considerable impact.

· If the major distinction between being tried as a juvenile or an adult is the severity of the punishment and the amount of lenience applied, then it's telling for the attorney to argue for the former, since it indirectly implies that their client will likely be found culpable. Furthermore, if the defendant is found guilty there is a likelihood that their punishment will not be appropriate for their current age, which may seem unfair to some.

If it were up to me to decide, I would treat them as an adult for the purposes of the trial, but take into account their young age as an extenuating circumstance when sentencing.


> then it's telling for the attorney to argue for the former, since it indirectly implies that their client will likely be found culpable

I think this is a very, very dangerous way of reasoning. It is the duty of your attorney to try to provide you with all the legal protections you are entitled to, regardless of whether you are guilty or not. That's why those protections were put in place to begin with.

> Furthermore, if the defendant is found guilty there is a likelihood that their punishment will not be appropriate for their current age

People (at least on civil law countries) are judged using the state of affairs of when the crime was committed, not when the case is heard. There are very many reasons for this: it might have been legal back then and not now, it's the defendant's fault to not have been put on trial when still a minor, etc.

> It's a fun problem to reason about mathematically, but it's totally irrelevant to the case in my opinion.

I absolutely understand your feeling. However technicalities are not less important in law as they are in computer code. If we had a way to establish fairly, without bias whether someone is "adult enough" other than with this arbitrary 18.00 limit we would have used it. But we don't, and even you say "a couple of days are not going to have a considerable impact" but then only apply that one way (towards a harsher sentencing) but the other (maybe she is still not an adult?)


If there was an election on the 28th of Feb 2018, would this girl have been able to vote?

How about buy alcohol?

If we agree there has to be some arbitrary line, then we probably ought to apply that sharply.

> it indirectly implies that their client will likely be found culpable.

I don't think that's fair at all. We don't know the specifics of the case.

> if the defendant is found guilty there is a likelihood that their punishment

This assumes that punishment, as dealt out by the courts, is an appropriate way of going about healing society after a crime has occurred.


> This assumes that punishment, as dealt out by the courts, is an appropriate way of going about healing society after a crime has occurred.

Yes, goodness gracious, how has this of all things become the sacrosanct, canonical representation of justice?

More humane societies will follow ours, and they'll look back with astonishment about our obsession with punishment to the exclusion of actual restoration.


I'm pretty extremely compassionate, understanding, etc. I'm finding that once someone wrongs you, most people won't voluntarily make amends and it becomes absolutely necessary to play hardball. Nor can you force them to make reparations. But you can punish people.

I would like to see more focus on crime prevention by helping everyone get their needs met, not criminalizing things where no one is victimized, etc.

But once the deed is done, I don't know that it really works to not have some element of consequences, unfortunately.


All I can say in response to this is: this certainly is tricky!

Punishing crime has a disproportionate negative consequence on those who have already been traumatised by the circumstances of their lives.

So I agree with your point about everyone's needs being met, but we can't have that until we, collectively / globally, make some significantly different choices.

So we'll probably have to continue getting by with an obviously suboptimal crime and punishment system.

Edit: fixed a word


Punishing crime has a disproportionate negative consequence on those who have already been traumatised by the circumstances of their lives.

Assuming this is actually true, it would be so only because we disproportionately let rich people off with a slap on the wrist, not because poor people commit more crimes. (rich and poor being imperfect proxies for whose lives suck more or less)

Plenty of people are just selfish and don't care that other people got hurt, like the Theranos debacle. That hurt many people and was perpetrated by very privileged individuals, not poor schmucks whose lives sucked from the get go.


> If it were up to me to decide, I would treat them as an adult for the purposes of the trial, but take into account their young age as an extenuating circumstance when sentencing.

And how would you treat other cases that are 17.9, 17.75, 17.5, 17, 16.99, 16, 15, 14, 12?

Obviously we could have a sliding scale, but that's a different hypothetical. What's your binary verdict?


This really goes against what the spirit of these sorts of laws should be.

The 18 barrier to age of majority is treated as a threshold, sure, but the reality of people is they mature in different ways and over longer periods of time. I (and my culture I guess) considered myself an adult by 16 or 17 whilst friends I know didn't consider themselves adults until 22 or 23. The thing I know is under the law, everyone needs to be held to the same standard, but does a day an adult make? Is that seriously the argument they make there?

Biologically and psychologically, we know that a day doesn't age someone, maturation occurs on a longer timescale. The thing is 18 as a threshold is not as important as how responsible, aware, and independent a person is. I know that's a harder thing to measure, but when we confuse the map for the territory, instead of actually using the law as intended, we play these weird legal games.


I'm 34 and still don't consider myself an adult. With this in mind, if I break the law can I please be tried as a minor?


This logic is not applicable linearly across all ages I think.


According to my experience PostgreSQL is very efficient at this game (and many other ones).

"select (date '2000-02-29' + interval '18 years')" returns "2018-02-28 00:00:00", so the Court may be right.


Doesn't this just divert the decision making process to the PostgreSQL developers.


And we largely defer it to https://www.iana.org/time-zones ;)


Or possibly the sql standard


I absolutely don't see the issue here. The suspect was not 18 at the time of the crime.


It's not difficult, is it? I'm not sure why there's any debate whatsoever.


Unfortunately, legal definitions can have counterintuitive consequences.

The article is saying that the justices disagree on when you become an adult. One justice is saying that you become an adult 18 years after you're born, but how are years defined by the law?

It could be defined as "365 days, or 366 days if the time period starts after February 28th of a year preceding a leap year". Instead, the law first defines "N months" to always end on the last day of the final month if there aren't enough days in that final month, and then a year is simply 12 months.

This is actually sensible. If you enter a 1-year contract on Feb 29th, it makes sense that it ends on Feb 28th rather than Mar 1st the next year.

Therefore you become an adult 216 months after you're born, which in the case of this girl happened on the last day of February 2018 (because February 29th 2018 didn't exist). I agree that this is a problem, but if the problem lies in the law's definition of "becoming adult", it might not even be possible for judges to fix it.

Assuming it is actually possible for them to fix it, the alternative definition could have been "on the day of your 18th birthday", but really you need a more precise the definition actually must accommodate February 29th and push it to March 1st. For example, as the other justice puts it, "until your 18th birthday has begun or passed" (as if February 29th 2018 existed but was of length zero). Of course you'd have to find out whether any other laws are in conflict with this definition, and possibly fix all the computer programs that were assuming the old definition (for example, would she have voted on February 28th 2018? would that change with the new definition?).

BTW at least in Italy, if the justices reach parity they have to judge in favor of the defendant. In that case she would be declared not an adult. But the ancillary question of e.g. elections would not be resolved.


It'd seem like we could resolve this by determining if the {mean # of days in a year} times 18 = 6574.365 days had passed or not?


Exactly my thought. I don't know why anyone would use months or years as a measurement in legal and official terms, considering the variation of number of days they have.


But then your birthday date would fluctuate.


I meant for the purposes of settling this issue, not for all legal calculations based on birthdays.


But then you're in a funny gray area of being legally an adult for some considerations, but not others.


Er, that's not what I meant. By "this issue" I meant leap days. If there are no leap days causing issues then you use the normal calculation. If you're trying to figure out stop or end times on a leap day then you use this. It'd still be used for all considerations, so being legal age in all respects would be the same for the same person. The only "problem" is it discriminates by like 1 day for different people which hopefully we can still sleep soundly with.


"The tyrrany of the discontinuous mind" by Richard Dawkins sums it up quite nicely https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttUxingKt90


I just hope the crime was underage drinking. Drinking age is 18 in Australia FYI.


In that case the court would be arguing that she could not have drunken on February 28th, and the lawyer would be arguing that she could have.


i would think that on non-leap years you would 'age' on the 1st of March. but i can see where the confusion lies.

for days before Feb 29th you get to the next year by adding 365 days on years except the leap year. so for 2000-2004. [366, 365, 365, 365]

for days after Feb 29th you get to the next year by adding 365 days on years except the year before the leap year. so for 2004-2004. [365, 365, 365, 366]

if you use one of these rules for Feb 29th you get the next year falling on Feb 28th or Mar 1st for non-leap years..


Did anyone catch the stock photo and caption used on the article? That an extra 30th day was "added to February in the year the girl was born". LOL


What are the odds. Interesting case, thanks for the read :)


Surprisingly high. 350k people born per day - just takes one of them to break the law on a particular day and get caught.


I don't have the numbers for Australia/other western countries, but there are around 50,000 Chinese juveniles each year, to simplify the estimation, assuming birthday and when they commit their crimes are all evenly distributed during the year and there is no link between birthday and when/whether someone is going to be a criminal, you are looking at a few such cases a year in a country with 1.4 billion population.

the combined population of US/EU/AU/CA/NZ is close to the Chinese population, assuming the crime rate is the same (which is obviously not, thanks to the crime rate in US), you are look at a few such cases each year for the entire western world.

for australia, there were probably a few such cases after WWII.


Edge cases ...


Isn't it!

I'd be surprised there isn't precedent somewhere actually, perhaps not in Australia but at least a couple of similar cases.

The defendant in this case is absolutely 17 though. I can't see it any other way.


Agreed - in my mind the easiest way to consider it is to consider the 29th as an infinitesimally short day on non-leap years. On the 1st of March that day has passed and they are 18, on the 28th of Feb that day hasn't started.

The same tactic works for working out when one month from the 31st August is


I also can't see it any other way. Also the birthday of a person doesnt even need to be near the potentially missing date for the same 'conundrum', two people a couple of years apart but otherwise the same birthday who comit a crime on the same day in july (but in different years), the day before they becomes 18, will also each have lived a different number of days. I think they should both be treated as not yet 18, even though they don't have the same age in days.




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