All right, I have a “What-if” hypothetical situation: Let’s say that I live in your fictional state of Fremont. As far back as I can remember, there has been no law in the state that prevents me from selling pencils on the streets. However, just yesterday such a law was passed. I happened to not check the news yesterday, so I had no idea that this law was in place. Today, I went out to make a few bucks by selling some pencils on the street for a buck each. Of course, with the new law in place, I’m arrested by the police. Could I make a plea saying that since the law was passed just yesterday, I couldn’t have reasonably known that what I was doing was against the law?
It’s a reasonable mistake, but it’s still a mistake of law and so it won’t count as an excuse.
Legislation involves committees and debates in the legislature, then signing by the executive (or legislative override of a veto). This is considered plenty of opportunity for you to learn what the law contains. And it was your elected representatives who did all that, so arguably you even had some say in it. Of course, plenty of bills get passed that nobody has read all the way through, and the whole point of a republic rather than a democracy is so individuals don’t have to consider every damn bill, so these justifications are a pure legal fiction. (Called “promulgation” — the act of making the law known to those it affects.)
Regulations are even worse — they have the same force as law, but are enacted by bureaucrats who weren’t elected to represent anyone. The only discussion comes during a period of “public comment” that the public never hears about (only those with vested interests and the time and resources to constantly look out for new regulations tend to comment — i.e., large well-funded organizations). And once that period of public comment is over, the regulation gets published in the Federal Register, whereupon it takes effect. Not even people paid to read it bother to read the whole thing — it’s closing in on 100,000 pages of dense, often incomprehensible text. So the fiction of promulgation is even more fictitious here.
But that’s how the law is. And the doctrine of mistake isn’t likely to change any time soon. So before you start selling pencils on the streets of Fremont, you might want to consult a lawyer.
Aww :( I really wanted to sell those pencils. I have too many pencils. Thank you for clearing that up!
Hmm… I go through pencils (and note pads) at an alarming rate. Maybe we can come to an arrangement…
Sounds like a criminal conspiracy to me.
Doesn’t that depend on whether they’re talking about pencils or “pencils”? :-)
It’s not in the street.
Oh I’d love to see that whole committee argument when applied to laws as huge and convoluted as “The Affordable Care Act”. That thing was so huge and convoluted NOBODY knew what was in it, including the legislators who passed it. I’m sure we heard the excuse “We have to pass it to know what’s in it”, which is either a blatant lie, or the contents were somehow made so that they could not be seen without being passed (which I’m pretty sure is illegal and against how the process is supposed to work).
That quote is taken way out of context.
a) it was not addressed to federal legislators but to the National Association of Counties.
b) the issue of not knowing “what’s in it” was not in reference to the contents of the bill, but instead in reference to the “fog of controversy” — the specious rhetoric and false arguments being made about the bill by opponents.
This is my favorite real-life example of lack of adequate notice as a defense. http://www.loweringthebar.net/2014/05/sign-installer-cited.html
Texas had this with license plate frames which hid the state name and parts of the license “number”; they started writing tickets they day it went into effect. Arguably, that was a law which wasn’t specifically needed, since presumably license plates need to be clearly and unambiguously readable anyway. I suspect that was a loophole which needed to be closed.
What about if the State of Fremont also has a legal responsibility to educate its residents and citizens on any changes in the law, would you still be liable?
Trying to come up with an example of what is discussed above, here are the two I can think of:
1. I’m driving on a highway with a posted speed limit of 65, however, I’m driving at the speed of the other traffic in this section of roadway, which is 78. I’m speeding by 13 mph, but most of the time police will ignore it since otherwise they would have to arrest everyone.
2. I see a woman bleeding on the street, and no one else is around. I have no phone, but I see a nearby car with the key in the ignition. I pull her into the car, drive her to a hospital, and not only have I stolen a car, but damaged it as well (got blood all over the seats).
Are both of these what is being discussed, or just one (which one), or neither and I just don’t get it?
1: That’s not a case of being “excused”, but rather a case of the law not being enforced. Every driver who drives any speed from 66 up on that freeway is breaking the law, and would have no defense if pulled over.
2. You probably have a justification defense there, as I understand it.
Addendum to 2: You have a justification defense if she was bleeding very severely to the point where anyone would agree her life may be in danger (which I assume is the hypothetical). If she had a messy injury that nonetheless obviously wasn’t life-threatening (like, say, a shattered toe) you would definitely have no justification defense for grand theft auto.