Ignorance is no defense to criminal charges

(I I could have used a photo of Rod Blagojevich).

Just because you didn't know something was illegal, doesn't mean you're off the hook. Maybe you didn't realize you were breaking the law, or you had no intention of breaking the law. You can still be charged with a crime, convicted of that crime, and thrown in jail.

If you thought u-turns were legal in Chicago because they are legal where you used to live, that's just too bad. You broke the law, and not knowing the law is no excuse. If you thought the speed limit was 40 but it was actually 25, it doesn't matter; you were speeding. You won't go to jail for these offenses, but consider something more serious.

Let's say you were arrested for having sex with a minor. Even if they told you they were 18 (and they definitely looked 18), you may be facing serious consequences. Under Illinois law, you can be charged with statutory rape, and if you're convicted, you'll have to register as a sex offender. It doesn't matter that you didn't know the person was a minor.

Another example would be if you brought a loaded gun in to the City of Chicago while driving through from Indiana on your way to Illinois.  If you were caught with it, you could be charged with unlawful use of a weapon which is a major felony that is often punishable by jail time.  Former NFL receiver Plaxico Burress is sitting in a New York jail right now for similar reasons.

You can't play dumb and get out of these things, or people would do it all the time. And you can't get out of it by saying you didn't mean to do it.

On a side note, one of my best friends growing up had a father who was and still is a criminal Judge and is a great guy.  While I can't remember a thing I learned in high school, I remember most of the Judge's stories.  One of the best involves a criminal defendant that came before him.  When asked how he was going to plea, the guy said, "I know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but what can I say, I'm ignorant."  The Judge was so impressed with his honesty and humor that he dismissed the charges.

 

 

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  • Have you ever seen/heard the Dave Chapelle joke where he's telling a story about how he and a friend were driving home wasted, smoking a joint, speeding, when a cop pulls them over only to be fed the line "I'm sorry officer. I...didn't know I couldn't do that." And it works!

  • I don't necessarily want to bring political theory and doctrine into this, but this could be used as a modern case for federalism. I'm not saying I necessarily agree with this argument, because using ignorance as a crutch for political theory is frightening, albeit common.

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