Ignorance of the law

It has been said that ignorance of the law is no defense.  If you break the law, you can be prosecuted even if you didn’t know what you did was illegal.  The concept itself makes sense.  After all, how are you supposed to prosecute people if the first thing they say is “I didn’t know it was illegal” and walk away free and clear, only to break another law?  However, there’s a problem with this line of thinking.

Between federal, state, and local governments, there are hundreds of thousands of laws governing our behavior at any given moment.  Some, like murder, are universal wrongs that no one thinks should be legal.  Others are well publicized but relatively minor, like seat belt laws.  Others are more obscure.

In Oklahoma, you can be jailed for making ugly faces at your dog.  In Compton, California, it’s against the law to dance cheek to cheek.  In Florida, you can be fined for falling asleep under a hair drier.  That’s some pretty stupid stuff, but Oklahoma?  Florida?  Obviously, California?  They’re a little off in most of those places, right?

Not so fast.  For example, it’s illegal to use profanity in front of a corps here in the Peach State.  We’re also not allowed to carry an ice cream cone in our back pockets on Sunday.  If you slap a man on the back, you’re a criminal.  See?  We’re not immune to some of this.

These laws are generally dumb.  In fact, several examples came from a site called dumblaws.com (others came from here)  However, they do illustrate a point, and that point is that there are so many laws that it can become difficult to follow them all.  Ayn Rand once said “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws.”  With all of these laws, it certainly seems like there’s some validity to this line of thought.

A lot of us consider ourselves pro-law and order.  I know I do.  It comes from being raised in part by a father who was a cop.  However, it’s imperative that we also understand that our system is set up in such a way that it’s impossible for us not to be a criminal in some way, shape, or form.  Some folks, the kind who are more likely to wear tin foil in place of a ball cap, would call it intentional.  They would say the idea was to make so man laws that they can always find a reason to lock you up.  Personally, I refuse to blame cunning when stupid will work just as well.

If Congress, the state legislatures, and the local governments want to improve the lives of their citizens, perhaps an excellent place to start would be killing all these ridiculous laws.

I say we seriously simplify the criminal codes in this country so that people can know what the hell they’re supposed to do, and then we go after real law breakers like the fiery hammer of God has descended upon them.  But that’s just me.

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