View Poll Results: Ignorance of the law does not excuse

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Thread: Ignorantia juris non excusat

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    EffyCold The Ineffable's Avatar
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    Default Ignorantia juris non excusat

    Meaning not knowing about a law is no excuse for breaking it. Literally "ignorance of the law does not excuse". Do you agree with it?
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    It depends on the sense in which you mean "excuse". Certainly, it doesn't -- and oughtn't -- excuse one legally; even if we could ascertain with surety whether or not someone was aware of the law when he or she transgressed it, doing so would cause significant problems. For example, people would have a perverse incentive to be ignorant of the law and less conscientious criminals would be punished less. The twin purposes of the law are to deter potential criminals and to sequester criminals away from the rest of society; being more permissive towards ignorance undermines both aims. If you mean "excuse" in a moral sense, though, then I believe that breaking the law is not morally wrong (eo ipso), so there would be nothing to excuse. However, I do believe that doing something that is both morally wrong and illegal is excusable if the perpetrator was ignorant of the wrongness of his or her actions. Such a person might tend to do bad things, and should be punished for his or her actions, but shouldn't be considered a bad person.

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    I mostly agree with the principle. It is not that easy to make sure everyone knows the law, I myself never read the constitution and know the laws by the word of mouth mostly, but I think in general laws are intuitive, except some complex, obfuscated ones like in finances. It is unfortunate when people break the law without knowing, but also it is not good to accept ignorance as an excuse - in the end someone may have read the law but pretend he/she has not. I don't know a solution, IMO the laws should be simplified for the large public, and be taught mandatorily in school and even outside it. Maybe goverments should make a centralized search engine with tags for terms that every mortal can look for, like "friendly fire" instead of "amicicide". The lawmen have a talent of using the most obscure technical terms .
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    Quote Originally Posted by Begoner View Post
    The twin purposes of the law are to deter potential criminals and to sequester criminals away from the rest of society; being more permissive towards ignorance undermines both aims.
    Yeah, that's correct.
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    I don't agree with it and have proclaimed so before. Relying on intuition to predict what is legal is outright erroneous and presupposes that all humans come to the same prognostic conclusions - which they don't. Yeah, the approach more or less works in practice on a large scale level for a country(the U.S.), but on a more personal level, the fact that you can be convicted because of your unwitting ignorance of a digestively impossible number of specific and complex laws is not something that should be in effect for any human.
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    "Laws" are just words from people, backed by a certain amount of physical force.

    They're silly, impermanent little things, often written in intentionally impenetrable language and handled in other ways to be accidentally broken by unsuspecting people (often to generate revenue for the government in one way or another), and I see no morally valid reason for them to be universally followed just because they exist at the time for whatever reason - break away, and have a blast doing so!

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    I mostly disagree.

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    In reasonable countries, it is taken into account the extent to which the individual should be familiar with the spirit of whatever law.

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    I agree as far as judiciary activity goes i.e. it should be used as a principle when someone breaches a given law.
    I mostly don't agree as far as "moral" judgement goes - i.e. I will judge less "negatively" someone that has broken a law he didn't know, compared to someone who did know what he was getting into.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Subterranean View Post
    In reasonable countries, it is taken into account the extent to which the individual should be familiar with the spirit of whatever law.
    There are two possibilities: either all individuals should be equally familiar with a particular law, or some individuals should be more familiar than others with a particular law. If the former, then an individual's actual knowledge of the law will have no bearing on his punishment (only his expected knowledge will, and this expected knowledge will not vary from person to person), nor will it excuse him. Thus, ignorance cannot used as an excuse; rather, the penalties for breaking a law should decrease as a function of the law's obscurity. This does indeed seem reasonable, and it does uphold the principle mentioned by the OP. If the latter, then it will be up to the courts to measure how familiar an individual is with the laws. This seems eminently unreasonable. Should intelligent people be punished more severely than idiots or educated people more severely than high school drop-outs? Or perhaps we should just double the penalties for lawyers and leave them the same for everyone else (well, this one might not be such a bad idea after all). This is not inherently illogical, but it does offend my sense of equality and impartiality under the law. A similar argument could be made that the rich should be punished less severely than the poor -- after all, they contribute more to society, so they shouldn't be locked up for as long. The basic premise might be the maximization of society's utility; however, I think it is foolhardy to attempt to do this by undermining an important cornerstone of a democratic society -- namely, the idea that everyone is equal under the law.

  11. #11
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    contextually I agree

    obviously if its something like an unposted speed limit being enforced, then its obviously a bit unfair... however if you are talking about something like murdering someone in cold blood and then using "I never went to law school" as your main defense then I'd agree.

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    If this is somehow creepily related to the forum, it's just a forum, not a court of law.

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    Quote Originally Posted by woofwoofl View Post
    often written in intentionally impenetrable language and handled in other ways to be accidentally broken by unsuspecting people
    I'm sometimes having that feeling. When I think about the laws I'm also thinking about bureaucracy, in a way, it is sometimes so frustrating to try to understand, even if you have the text in front of you, you may be clueless of what it tries to say. Everyone you ask is as clueless as you are, perhaps the only solution is to hire an expert, but I find that unjust. However, to improve things - like improving everything else - people should rather complain to the authorities instead of ignoring (and breaking) the law.

    I think here's where transparency of the structures matter. There's a difference when your e-mail is read by a member of the judicial elite and he/she decides it's "garbage", a different matter is when the requests are found in scrutinized public lists. This is tricky, though, since in the latter case, different interest groups (or even the speculators, eg the press) are allowed to put pressure on the legislators, I'm actually wondering if a bullet-proof solution is possible... that's because on one hand the legislators should be immune to pressure - they're in the end some sort of "practical philosophers" - on the other hand potential abuses need to be limited somehow. I'm reminded of this, lol:

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    Quote Originally Posted by HaveLucidDreamz View Post
    obviously if its something like an unposted speed limit being enforced, then its obviously a bit unfair...
    Yeah, I think sometimes the authorities don't insure the visibility of the law. What they're interested in is to have your signature or an assumed acknowledgment, not whether you really understood the conditions. But then again, I don't think the rule should not apply literally, though when abuse is proved, the ones in charge should be held accountable (incl the state) and pay compensations. I don't trust "independent" shcoolars", though.
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    The law is so verbose, it's difficult to understand what is legal and what isn't, unless it's something simple, a directly injurious act against another against their will. But that's a problem of too much law trying to regulate too many situations (loopholes? Excuse me... what purpose is there for those? I love how the prosecutors of Enron went for fraud... just straight out fraud. Forget how complex it was... it added up to FRAUD).

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    It depends on how obvious the law is.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Begoner View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Subterranean View Post
    In reasonable countries, it is taken into account the extent to which the individual should be familiar with the spirit of whatever law.
    There are two possibilities: either all individuals should be equally familiar with a particular law, or some individuals should be more familiar than others with a particular law. If the former, then an individual's actual knowledge of the law will have no bearing on his punishment (only his expected knowledge will, and this expected knowledge will not vary from person to person), nor will it excuse him. Thus, ignorance cannot used as an excuse; rather, the penalties for breaking a law should decrease as a function of the law's obscurity. This does indeed seem reasonable, and it does uphold the principle mentioned by the OP. If the latter, then it will be up to the courts to measure how familiar an individual is with the laws. This seems eminently unreasonable. Should intelligent people be punished more severely than idiots or educated people more severely than high school drop-outs? Or perhaps we should just double the penalties for lawyers and leave them the same for everyone else (well, this one might not be such a bad idea after all). This is not inherently illogical, but it does offend my sense of equality and impartiality under the law. A similar argument could be made that the rich should be punished less severely than the poor -- after all, they contribute more to society, so they shouldn't be locked up for as long. The basic premise might be the maximization of society's utility; however, I think it is foolhardy to attempt to do this by undermining an important cornerstone of a democratic society -- namely, the idea that everyone is equal under the law.
    I don't really agree with this. There are crimes like murder where it is essentially impossible for a general person to make a good case that they didn't know the law - but then there are other cases where a person can make a reasonable case for not knowing the law (for a lesser crime). It is also easier to make this defence if you haven't been prosecuted several times for the same offence already.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by crazedratsshadow View Post
    It depends on how obvious the law is.


    I took several law classes towards my Bachelor's in Finance. Generally, you have to ask, how would a reasonable person have acted in the situation? How much harm did the person know they were causing other people?

    Obviously some crimes like murder, rape, assault, should be pretty obvious that they're illegal.

    Other laws are not for extreme crimes, but for picky little stuff. Lots of examples could be made, where maybe a person broke a local law because his grass was too high, and there'd be a reasonable case that 1) a reasonable person would not have assumed he needed his grass below 1 foot in this town or 2) the person wasn't causing anyone harm, so they assumed it was ok. Under a simple example like this, I think not knowing a law would be a reasonable excuse for breaking it.

    Generally, though, behind the context of the original post, I would say it's more aimed towards people who are IGNORANT and use that as an excuse to justify unlawful behavior. Like I explained, one should be reasonable. So I'm going to have to vote "mostly agree with" the original post, although like most things in the law which can't be black and white, I'm not going to vote that I always agree with it, cause of the example I gave as well as dozens of other examples you could give.

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