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| | |-+  "Ignorance of the law is no excuse"
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Question: Do you think the above term is appropriate?
Yes   -2 (15.4%)
No   -11 (84.6%)
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Total Voters: 13

Author Topic: "Ignorance of the law is no excuse"  (Read 3598 times)
Joe Republic
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« on: February 03, 2010, 10:14:56 am »
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I've seen this phrase used occasionally, mainly by the authorities and their supporters (of course).  One example was an ad I saw on a bus reminding people that it's the law for men to register with the Selective Service System by their 18th birthday, and the ad used this phrase.

It's a definite 'no' from me.  Ignorance of the law is a pretty damn good excuse for breaking relatively obscure laws.  Especially when little has been done to publicize the law in question, or perhaps correct widespread misconceptions about it.

One need only look at the variances in traffic laws between the states, or restrictions on social activities, e.g. age of consent.
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« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2010, 10:22:54 am »
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It's not wrong per se, but it's usually only really applicable to "crimes" that aren't really very important.

Everyone knows it's illegal to hit your neighbor with a baseball bat, wherever you are.....but they might not know that receiving a blowjob from a 15 year old girl in Georgia will get you 10 years in prison.
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Joe Republic
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« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2010, 10:36:43 am »
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Although I didn't specify it in the poll question, the relatively obscure crimes are the only ones I really had in mind with this.
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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2010, 10:39:13 am »
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Using Joe's posting a bit:  "Ignorance of the law is a pretty damn good excuse for breaking relatively obscure laws.  Especially when little has been done to publicize the law in question, or perhaps correct widespread misconceptions about it.""  I certainly agree with this sentiment.  On the big stuff you better be careful.

For example, I have carefully reviewed the Concealed Carry laws in all surrounding states.  I can legally carry in WV, but I can't in NY, OH, and MD (I don't go to Jersey so who cares).  No excuse for carrying illegally.

The example Franzl gave is one where ignorance is no excuse too.  It's easy enough to look up online where you can legally have a 15 year old blow you.

All in all, I'd answer - maybe.
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Joe Republic
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« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2010, 11:19:32 am »
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The example Franzl gave is one where ignorance is no excuse too.  It's easy enough to look up online where you can legally have a 15 year old blow you.

Age of consent and statutory rape laws are a perfect example of what I'm talking about.  If a young couple were to travel across the country, in some states, their having sex would be perfectly acceptable, but in others, he's technically raping her.  It's not their responsibility to go out of their way to inform themselves of such silly restrictions; it's the state's responsibility to publicize how their laws differ from others'.

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Actually, a decent philosophical case could be made that the phrase is unacceptable even for major crimes.

Let's say that a country exists somewhere that allows people to murder each other if, say, the victim insulted the aggressor's wife.

A citizen of that country, born and raised and with no experience of other cultures, decides to visit the U.S.  The only legal requirements he needs are a passport and a visa; he doesn't need to take a test so that he's familiar with our laws and customs.

Before long, a New York cabbie makes a disparaging remark about our fellow's wife, so he kills him.  Obviously he has committed a crime within our territory, but he didn't know that.  Why would he have known it?  A reasonable defense could be made on that basis.
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2010, 12:20:27 pm »
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Joe, in my view, certain "crimes" are universally known, even if not practiced in certain countries.........causing harm or killing someone, you know you're going to jail for that almost everywhere.  Banging a 15 year old might be, and probably is no problemo in the disgusting Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but even the Saudi's know you don't bang 15 year olds in the U.S. without a problem cropping up.

Unless your head is in the sand, these aren't cases of ignorance, they're cases of ignoring the law.
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Joe Republic
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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2010, 12:38:35 pm »
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Again, the key point here is that the onus is on the state to inform people of the law, not of people to inform themselves.

If I'm caught committing a misdemeanor in another location without the knowledge that it was any kind of crime in the first place, I'll apologize for having done so, but that's as far as I'm prepared to go.  I would vehemently resist any attempts to prosecute me.

I'm certainly not prepared to trawl through the criminal codes of every state/country I plan to visit, and it would be ridiculous to expect that of anyone.
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« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2010, 12:38:46 pm »
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The example Franzl gave is one where ignorance is no excuse too.  It's easy enough to look up online where you can legally have a 15 year old blow you.

Age of consent and statutory rape laws are a perfect example of what I'm talking about.  If a young couple were to travel across the country, in some states, their having sex would be perfectly acceptable, but in others, he's technically raping her.  It's not their responsibility to go out of their way to inform themselves of such silly restrictions; it's the state's responsibility to publicize how their laws differ from others'.

---

Actually, a decent philosophical case could be made that the phrase is unacceptable even for major crimes.

Let's say that a country exists somewhere that allows people to murder each other if, say, the victim insulted the aggressor's wife.

A citizen of that country, born and raised and with no experience of other cultures, decides to visit the U.S.  The only legal requirements he needs are a passport and a visa; he doesn't need to take a test so that he's familiar with our laws and customs.

Before long, a New York cabbie makes a disparaging remark about our fellow's wife, so he kills him.  Obviously he has committed a crime within our territory, but he didn't know that.  Why would he have known it?  A reasonable defense could be made on that basis.

No.  I think that onus of knowing the law is on the individual, under the theory that laws are public.  For me, not knowing what an NSA or CIA rule that is classified is an excuse, because I don't have clearance to see that.  I can look up statute; I can hire someone to look up statute.
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J. J.

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« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2010, 12:43:02 pm »
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Again, the key point here is that the onus is on the state to inform people of the law, not of people to inform themselves.

If I'm caught committing a misdemeanor in another location without the knowledge that it was any kind of crime in the first place, I'll apologize for having done so, but that's as far as I'm prepared to go.  I would vehemently resist any attempts to prosecute me.

I'm certainly not prepared to trawl through the criminal codes of every state/country I plan to visit, and it would be ridiculous to expect that of anyone.

How do you expect state and local governments to live up to the obligations you have given them, since looking through criminal codes isn't an option?
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Joe Republic
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2010, 01:01:30 pm »
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To answer your question, Gramps, that's not my problem.  But a practical suggestion for the U.S. might be to put up signs at state borders (like the ones already in place informing drivers of buckle-up laws) and airports.

I find it alarming that you guys are happier defending the state over the individual.  So much for the government being afraid of the populace...
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« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2010, 01:06:15 pm »
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To answer your question, Gramps, that's not my problem.

I find it alarming that you guys are happier defending the state over the individual.  So much for the government being afraid of the populace...

Joe, I think we agreed that on the obscure laws, ignorance is a pretty good excuse.  I don't think you're being reasonable with your killing the guy example, but I'm with you on the petty stuff.   I don't think you stating that we are defending the state, is accurate.
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Joe Republic
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2010, 01:09:34 pm »
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Fair enough.  My argument concerning the serious crime was more of a philosophical one.
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2010, 01:10:53 pm »
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Fair enough.  My argument concerning the serious crime was more of a philosophical one.

I know.......but I like your sign idea.   I'd love to see a sign on the Turnpike that says "No Blowjobs from Girls under 16"  Cheesy
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Joe Republic
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2010, 01:13:27 pm »
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I guess they'd have to make those signs pretty damn cheap, since they'd get stolen to be put up in college dorms at least five times a day.
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J. J.
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2010, 01:49:14 pm »
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Again, the key point here is that the onus is on the state to inform people of the law, not of people to inform themselves.


Didn't they do that when they adopted the law publicly, and published it publicly?

Quote

I'm certainly not prepared to trawl through the criminal codes of every state/country I plan to visit, and it would be ridiculous to expect that of anyone.

Well, your laziness is then your excuse, not your ignorance.
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J. J.

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The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us." - P. J. O'Rourke

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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2010, 02:09:51 pm »
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The problem, J.J., is that the law (over here anyway) places a great emphasis on what is reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect people to read the criminal code or a list of enforced by-laws before they visit somewhere.
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« Reply #16 on: February 03, 2010, 02:35:03 pm »
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The problem, J.J., is that the law (over here anyway) places a great emphasis on what is reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect people to read the criminal code or a list of enforced by-laws before they visit somewhere.

Well, generally, I think it is reasonable, especially with some of things we're talking about, like age of consent.
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J. J.

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The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us." - P. J. O'Rourke

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Joe Republic
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« Reply #17 on: February 03, 2010, 02:38:37 pm »
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Ha ha, you can certainly tell that J.J. used to be part of one of those useless entities responsible for creating pointless by-laws.  It's little wonder he expects everyone to automatically alert themselves to whatever crap they would collectively spew out.



J.J.:  "Come off it Mr. Dent, you canít win you know! Look, thereís no point in lying down in the path of progress!"

Arthur Dent:  "Iíve gone off the idea of progress. Itís overrated!"

J.J.:  "But you must realise that you canít lie in front of the bulldozers indefinitely!"

Arthur Dent:  "Iím game. Weíll see who rusts first."

J.J.:  "Iím afraid youíre going have to accept it! This bypass has got to be built and it is going to be built. Nothing you can say or do -"

Arthur Dent:  "Why has it got to be built?"

J.J.:  "Wha - what do you mean, ďwhy has it got to be built?Ē It is a bypass! Youíve got to build bypasses!"

Arthur Dent:  "Didnít anyone consider the alternatives?"

J.J.:  "There arenít any alternatives! But you are quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time!"

Arthur Dent:  "Appropriate time?"

J.J.:  "Yes."

Arthur Dent:  "The first I knew about it was when a workmen arrived at the door yesterday."

J.J.:  "T- oh!"

Arthur Dent:  "I asked him if heíd come to clean the windows and he said heíd come to demolish the house! He didnít tell me straight away of course. Oh no. First he wiped a couple of windows and charged me a fiver. Then he told me."

J.J.:  "But Mr. Dent the plans have been available in the planning office for the last nine months!"

Arthur Dent:  "Yes! I went round to find them yesterday afternoon. Youíd hadnít exactly gone out of your way to pull much attention to them have you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."

J.J.:  "The plans were on display."

Arthur Dent:  "Ah! And how many members of the public are in the habit of casually dropping around the local planning office of an evening?"

J.J.:  "Er - ah!"

Arthur Dent:  "Itís not exactly a noted social venue is it? And even if you had popped in on the off chance that some raving bureaucrat wanted to knock your house down, the plans werenít immediately obvious to the eye were they?"

J.J.:  "That depends where you were looking."

Arthur Dent:  "I eventually had to go down to the cellar!"

J.J.:  "Thatís the display department."

Arthur Dent:  "With a torch!"

J.J.:  "The lights, hadÖ probably gone."

Arthur Dent:  "So had the stairs!"

J.J.:  "Well you found the notice didnít you?"

Arthur Dent:  "Yes. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ďBeware of the LeopardĒ. Ever thought of going into advertising?"

J.J.:  "Itís not as if it is a particularly nice house anyway."

Arthur Dent:  "I happen rather to like it!"

J.J.:  "Mister Dent?"

Arthur Dent:  "Yes.  Hello."

J.J.:  "Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?"

Arthur Dent:  "How much?"

J.J.:  "None at all!"
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Sibboleth
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« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2010, 03:09:48 pm »
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The problem, J.J., is that the law (over here anyway) places a great emphasis on what is reasonable. It is not reasonable to expect people to read the criminal code or a list of enforced by-laws before they visit somewhere.

Well, generally, I think it is reasonable, especially with some of things we're talking about, like age of consent.

I live in Gwynedd. My parents live in Shropshire, my sister lives in Cardiff and my brother lives in Nottingham. While legislative differences between localities are less pronounced here than in the U.S, they still exist. I don't think that it's reasonable to expect me to look up by-laws, council regulations or (in the case of my parents and brother) any differences between the law in Wales and on the other side of the Dike, whenever I visit a member of my family. My brother used to live in Düsseldorf; I never visited him when he lived there, but if I had done it would, perhaps, have been reasonable to expect me to check for any major differences between the law in Britain and Germany but not (I would argue) between Wales and NRW or between Gwynedd and Düsseldorf. "Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse" is mostly just an excuse to boost police conviction rates.

Now, if I were to move to Nottingham (or whever) to set up a business or something (not that I'd ever do that, but this is hypothetical) it would be reasonable to expect me to know a bit about the differences between by-laws in Gwynedd and Nottingham. But that is not the same as merely visiting somewhere... or maybe not even the same as living somewhere. Most people don't know all the by-laws that affect the place where they live, do they.
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« Reply #19 on: February 03, 2010, 04:58:03 pm »
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This wouldn't be such an issue if states didn't have the ability to make up stupid obscure laws to differentiate themselves from other states. Perhaps what we should really be questioning is the extent to which we should enable the states vs. the federal government.
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« Reply #20 on: February 03, 2010, 05:48:12 pm »
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Of course, if law enforcement treated it as a good excuse, every criminal would feign ignorance on laws that aren't "well known".
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« Reply #21 on: February 03, 2010, 06:20:06 pm »
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Of course, if law enforcement treated it as a good excuse, every criminal would feign ignorance on laws that aren't "well known".

If a law isn't very well known, there's a decent chance it shouldn't be a law at all.
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IDS Judicial Overlord PiT
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« Reply #22 on: February 03, 2010, 11:10:12 pm »
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Of course, if law enforcement treated it as a good excuse, every criminal would feign ignorance on laws that aren't "well known".

If a law isn't very well known, there's a decent chance it shouldn't be a law at all.

     My thought exactly. Why have a law if it's so arcane that someone can reasonably claim to not know of it?
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« Reply #23 on: February 03, 2010, 11:39:52 pm »
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Of course, if law enforcement treated it as a good excuse, every criminal would feign ignorance on laws that aren't "well known".

If a law isn't very well known, there's a decent chance it shouldn't be a law at all.

     My thought exactly. Why have a law if it's so arcane that someone can reasonably claim to not know of it?

Generally such laws aren't really enforced, but yeah, they're still a waste of paper Tongue
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« Reply #24 on: February 04, 2010, 12:47:37 am »
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If the law isn't something you can figure out intuitively (don't steal, don't murder, etc.), then it shouldn't be law.
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