In the American justice system, the rule has long been that ignorance of the law is no excuse. If you are charged with a crime, claiming you didn’t know your actions were illegal is generally no defense. While this rule may have worked a century or two ago, however, some believe the principle no longer makes sense in a criminal justice system that has all sorts of regulatory crimes. A USA Today op-ed gave voice to the complaints of the many who believe that there are too many things illegal under the laws in the United States today.
If you are accused of any criminal offense, you need to understand what defenses may be viable in your case. A New York City criminal lawyer can help you to explore all ways to fight against the charges that you could be facing. If you did not know your actions were illegal, there may be circumstances in which your attorney can get the prosecutor to drop charges or can argue for either deferred sentencing or a favorable plea agreement with no jail time and minimal penalties. Every case is different, and talking to an attorney can be the smartest choice you make if you want to try for the best outcome in a difficult situation.
Regulatory Crimes Mean Not Everyone Knows the Law
Traditional common law offenses including theft, rape, and murder are typically behaviors that most people know are illegal. For a long time, these behaviors were the only crimes and so it made sense to preclude defendants from claiming they did not know their behavior was in violation of the penal code.
Now, offenses can include simple behaviors that it would be absurd for people to assume are illegal. USA Today points out some behaviors that can lead to criminal charges that most people would think are perfectly fine, such as picking up the father from a bald eagle (a felony) or diverting storm sewer water around a building.
Regulatory crimes are not always minor offenses that you can brush off. These types of offenses are “incredibly numerous” and many of them can actually result in felony charges. Prosecutors may come after people who commit these regulatory felony crimes because they have to fulfill quotas, or for political reasons- which means you could face more than a year in prison for doing something you did not even know was against the law.
Most of the common law crimes usually required culpability, and the prosecutor usually had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted willfully and intentionally in a wrongful way. Most regulatory crimes do not require culpability, which makes it even easier for people who didn’t mean to do anything wrong to be charged.
Reducing the number of regulatory laws could be one solution that helps to prevent unfair outcomes that can result when people face harsh punishments for acting in a way they didn’t know was wrong or against the law. Since it is much more difficult to get rid of a law than to get a law passed, this is likely a nonstarter.
Another option would be for legislation to be passed by congress indicating that conviction for a regulatory crime would require some proof the defendant either was aware of the illegality of his actions, or should have known his actions were illegal.
In a U.S. justice system that prohibits punishing people without due process, there are sound arguments to be made for the unfairness of imposing serious penalties against people for violating regulatory laws they don’t know about.
A criminal defense lawyer will help you to ensure you get due process if you are charged, and can help you to fight against conviction if you’re arrested for actions you didn’t realize were illegal. Call a New York City defense attorney at Bukh Law Firm for help.