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Is Ignorance of the Law a Legal Defense?

The laws that exist in the United States can be complex and difficult to understand. Between state, federal, and municipal laws, there may appear to be some contradiction, making it difficult to know which act is a crime and which is not. For this reason, it is possible for a person to commit a crime without knowing.

However, is ignorance of the law a legal defense?

Can You be Arrested for Unknowingly Committing a Crime?

The short answer is yes, you can. It is a police officer’s duty to arrest a person who they have probable cause to believe has committed a crime, whether they knowingly did it or not. There have been many situations where a person has claimed ignorance to prevent being arrested, so a police offer cannot be sure when someone is telling the truth.

In addition, it is not a police officer’s duty or responsibility to determine if you are guilty of a crime. That is a jury’s job. A police officer has a duty to arrest someone who they have probable cause to believe has committed a crime so that the judicial system can provide the accused with due process of law.

If you are arrested, guilty or not guilt, it is necessary that you know and exercise your constitutional rights immediately.

  • Politely state that you refuse to speak or answer questions without an attorney to represent you. Attempting to explain the situation frequently makes matters worse. Exercise your right to remain silent so you ensure the best possible outcome.
  • Ask for an attorney as soon as possible. It is your constitutional right to consult with an attorney and asking for one will not make you look guilty. It is the smart thing to do, whether you are innocent or not.

Is Ignorance of The Law a Legal Defense?

Ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law excuses not” and “ignorance of law excuses no one” is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law simply because they were unaware of it.

The rationale behind the principle is that if ignorance were an excuse, any person charged with a criminal offense could claim ignorance to avoid liability. Therefore, the law assigns knowledge of all laws to each person within the jurisdiction, no matter how short lived. Essentially, the law is the law whether you agreed to it or understood it.

The legal principle also assumes that the law in question has been made known to the public either by being printed in a government journal or newspaper, made available on the Internet, or printed for sale to the public at affordable prices.

With any criminal charge, it is in your best interest to consult with a criminal defense attorney. Attorneys understand the law and are well-versed in the various legal defenses used to defend individuals who are accused of breaking those laws.

McCabe Coleman Ventosa & Patterson is prepared to review your case and outline your best legal options. We’re dedicated to protecting your rights and representing you in a court of law. Contact us today to discuss how we can help.