Why It Is Important to Proofread: It Can Change Your Legal Rights!

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I write a monthly newsletter, and I sent out my March issue this past Monday. Within a couple of hours of sending it out, I got a note from my mom and from a colleague telling me that there were two typos on it. One was even in bold type. I had written ‘harmess’ instead of ‘harmless’ in one place, and ‘informaiton’ instead of ‘information’ in another. Honest enough mistakes and even though I had read over more than once what I wrote, it was a good lesson to always proofread yet one more time and to get a second set of eyes to review anything before you submit your final version.

So I got to wondering about whether there have been any court cases that have revolved around misspelling and typos. I found quite a few cases, including several that dealt with defendants in criminal matters who were appealing a conviction based on a typographical errors .

In one, the defendant claimed that the court erred in amending an indictment when it corrected the victim’s name from Body to Boyd. The defendant claimed that by correcting the typo, the court was depriving him of the substantial right to sufficient notice of the charges against him (i.e. as if the charges brought against him were changed). The court didn’t agree. Instead, the court said that the simple correction of a clerical error and was not an alteration of the offense charged. In a similar case, the defendant was appealing a guilty verdict because he claimed that the misspelling of “guilty” in the jury instructions (it had been spelt “guitly”) meant that he was deprived of a fair trial. The court disagreed. In another, the defendant tried to suppress the drugs that were found in a search of her home because “methamphetamine” had been misspelt in the search warrant (it was written “methanamines”). The court disagreed here too, stating that the search warrant was specific enough to give notice about what was to be searched for, despite the misspelling.

However, interestingly enough, I also found a case where a deed was void because of a typo. In the deed, the property was described as

12-C13-04-003-008-04

S35′ of S 535′ of 7

Blk3 Clendennins Annex–Lot 8, Blk 3

Clendennins N. Little Rock

However, the S should have been “8.” Here, the court found that the typo did matter as the deed did not describe the property correctly and accurately. The last thing you would want happen when purchasing land or real estate would be to disocover that the deed is void because someone had mistyped the legal description and didn’t double check. In another case, the IRS was unable to collect on unpaid taxes when the name of the debtor was listed as “Silvermine” when it should have been “Silverline.” Even one letter can make a difference.

So the lesson from my newsletter and from these cases is proofread! Even in the cases where the courts found that no real error was made, think of the time and expense that could have been saved if the document had been looked over just one more time and if another pair of eyes had looked it over. Lesson learned!

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Discussion

  1. Roxanne Barnes  March 5, 2010

    Thanks, Karen, for this post. I didn’t realize you had a blog until I saw it on your Facebook page today. I will regularly tune in to it, as I think it will be quite useful in my current work.

    (reply)
    • Karen Lundquist  March 5, 2010

      Thanks, Roxanne! How nice to get your note! Let me know if there is some topic in particular that interests you and I will try my best to address it.

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  2. Thomas Gallagher  March 5, 2010

    Did you drop in the typo “becasue” as a test of the reader?

    In the examples given, the liberty interests of the accused seem to have been less important than property rights in the real estate case. Hmm, makes me wonder.

    Your point here is well taken though. Proofreading is ever important. With greater use of web communication, I’ve come to differentiate between informal communications, like email, and even social networking, and more important writings. In the case of the former, as a reformed perfectionist, I try to let the occasional typo go.

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    • Karen Lundquist  March 5, 2010

      See how easy it is! I need that second pair of eyes all the time…or rather just need to review my own more thoroughly since spellcheck caught this one, but I didn’t! I agree with (or wiht?) you about letting small mistakes go. It is so easy with computers and the ease of producing written text. No excuse in any formal documents or correspondence, though. I like the language/grammar thread that we have had recently!

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