Interpretation of Penal Statutes In North Dakota

Construction of a criminal statute is a question of law, fully reviewable by the appellate court. State v. Buchholz, 2005 ND 30, P6, 692 N.W.2d 105. Our primary goal in interpreting statutes is to ascertain the legislature's intent, and we first look to the statutory language and give that language its plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning. Id. Statutes are construed to give meaning and effect to every word, phrase, and sentence. Id. If possible, the court construes statutes on the same subject to harmonize them and to give full force and effect to the legislature's intent. State v. Higgins, 2004 ND 115, P13, 680 N.W.2d 645. The court construes statutes relating to the same subject matter to give effect to both. Id. Criminal statutes are strictly construed in favor of the defendant and against the government. State v. Beciraj, 2003 ND 173, P14, 671 N.W.2d 250. Thus, in interpreting penal statutes, we resolve any doubt in favor of the criminal defendant. State v. Rohrich, 450 N.W.2d 774, 776 (N.D. 1990).