Ignorance of the Law - When Is It a Valid Defense?

The criminal court does permit ignorance of the law as a defense in certain select crimes or violations because of arcane or severely detailed laws that can be confusing. Some actions will result in penalties no matter what the crime is or if there is a certain outcome such as murder or theft.

Not Knowing It Was Illegal

Generally, most laws do not care if the person knows that the action or activity was illegal. The prosecuting lawyer can still incur charges for the offense because of the harm to a person or entity. In these situations, the defendant must argue a valid defense in the courtroom to justify the action. When the crime was murder, theft, arson and assault or battery, the perpetrator usually knows what he or she is doing is wrong or immoral. Not knowing that these actions are illegal is usually not a justification to commit such crimes or a way to defend against them.

No Secret Criminal Laws

There is a need for public notice about state and federal criminal laws applied to citizens in the state and country. The government cannot prosecute an offender if there is no knowledge or access to understand that something is illegal. There is a public process that requires details about the legislature and regulations passed in both country and state. Publishing these laws is necessary to ensure that the citizens are aware of which offenses exist. There are also official volumes of penal code details, government and state sites online to give access to which laws exist at which point and what laws are no longer active.

Differences in Behavior

It is vital to understand federal, state and local variances of the law because there are differences in what is legal behavior. Some places will criminalize what is legal in another state or city. Some cities will use signs to deter certain road behavior while other cities will permit these actions and use no signs. However, even if there are slight differences, the location generally will post notices or signs that explain what is alright and what is not possible. Without proper warnings, drivers in these areas will not know what they cannot do, and this becomes a valid defense in the courts when given a ticket.

Violating New Laws

With sufficient warnings usually in place, the individual may not have a valid defense unless the law is new. By violating laws that are brand new and not widely known yet, the individual may use this in the courts to get out of tickets or other minor offenses. Ignorance can become and remain a valid defense until the law is no longer new and most citizens are aware of the changes. This does expose the ignorance of how the law works and that the wording of the law criminalizes the behavior. This is important to learn about and research before traveling.

Specific Intent Crimes Ignorance

The crime and laws regarding these processes generally require a certain frame of mind. If the illegal activity is a specific intent crime, this could require a narrow path for the prosecutor. If the individual committing the crime is unaware that the activity is illegal, he or she may have a valid defense of ignorance because the specific intent was not clear or present. Other crimes that affect others because of recklessness or intentional harm may still remain effective in the courts involving the prosecution because it does not matter if the person is ignorant of these laws or not.

Other Criminal Acts

There are some minor or less serious crimes that are still against the law but that can occur without any knowledge of regulations in the state. This can occur with filing taxes with certain forms that lead to violations. If the business owner did not know, he or she may have a valid defense. Additionally, tampering with a witness or contact with someone involved in an investigation is usually a violation. However, without knowing this, the individual may have a legitimate excuse. It is important to consult with a lawyer before engaging in such activities.

Legal Support for Ignorance of the Law

The lawyer hired for the case may explain to the client that his or her ignorance of the law in the crime is a valid defense that will have use in the courtroom. The lawyer may argue this matter effectively depending on the crime and the laws in the state of residence.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and.how they may affect a case.

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