“If the Law Is This Complicated, Why Shouldn’t Ignorance Be an Excuse?”

Sharing a Netflix password might be a violation of federal law; so might picking a feather up off the ground, or freeing a whale that has become caught in one’s fishing gear. “America’s judges still cling to the proposition that it’s perfectly fine to lock people up for doing something they had no idea was illegal. But it’s not fine, and the justifications for that palpably unfair rule have only grown more threadbare with time.” [Clark Neily, TownHall] More: Stephen Carter, Bloomberg View.


  • Yet law enforcement gets a pass because they thought x was illegal… Or because there has not been a court decide on a particular issue… So the law isn’t good enough for them, it has to be judicially interpreted, even then they may still get a “good faith” exception. Why don’t citizens get “good faith” exceptions?

  • I’ll second Cecil

    Ignorance is no excuse for criminal defendants, but cops get a free pass on mistakes of law because it’s just too much to expect that someone whose job is enforcing the law would actually keep up on what the law is.

  • No one heeds Victor Hugo’s lesson of the misguided pursuit of justice by Javert against Jean Valjeans.

    A working justice system should have safety nets at all levels. The arresting officer should have had the discretion to look the other way when the law is broken for an innocent reason. So if a National Park Ranger sees that Bobby Unser (or John Q. Citizen) strayed onto national park land to escape death from a blizzard in whiteout conditions, and somehow violated the law for an otherwise victimless crime,. then he should have a few words with Unser advising him of the illegal act, and then send him on his way.

    But, if the Park Ranger were a true ass, and made the arrest, the prosecutor should have dropped the case and not sought an indictment.

    But if the prosecutor were a true ass and got an indictment under these circumstances because he could (As Sol Wachtler said “district attorneys now have so much influence on grand juries that “by and large” they could get them to “indict a ham sandwich”) then the judge should have put the brakes on the case and dismissed the charges “in the interest of justice.”

    The final safeguard is the jury. But if the jury does not get cases that have already gone through a Basian filter to ensure that there is a high probability of guilt of defendants that get to trial, then ther is an unacceptable probability of conviction.

    The justice system is broken my friends!


  • At this moment, my friends and I are in the middle of a fight (and their is no other way to describe it) over a Sunshine Law / FOIA request to a local city government.

    We made a request to see if the City would produce a rather damaging email that had been circulated and sent to us by a third party. (We have verified that the email is real from another source.)

    The City failed to provide it in response to the records request.

    In a public meeting where we said “the email is missing” the City Attorney and City Council said the email must be exempt by “attorney-client privilege.” (It’s not, but that’s another story.)

    The problem is that if the City is claiming that exemption, they must still provide the email in a redacted form. They cannot simple deny the existence of the email. In addition, the City must cite the statute which gives them the exemption. That didn’t happen either.

    The same night we brought the issue to light during a public meeting, a homeowner was fined for a minuscule offense of parking not parking a boat behind the front line of the home and instead was cited because the boat was 5 feet in front of the house.

    The City denied the appeal of the citation saying “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

    (Well, it’s no excuse unless you are ignorant and working within the government.)