Can ignorance of the law be presented as a legitimate defense?


Navigating the legal system in the United States can be tricky, mainly because of the discrepancies between state, federal, and municipal laws. That said, it can be challenging to discern what constitutes a crime, which makes it possible for an individual to commit a crime without knowing it. As such, many individuals wonder if they can be tried and prosecuted if they perform an act they didn’t know was illegal. The Supreme Court has ruled that the legal principle of ignorance of the law is no defense. However, depending on the context of the accusation, there are exceptions to this rule. Please continue reading to learn when ignorance of the law can be used as a valid defense and how a competent Chesterfield Criminal Defense Lawyer can fight for you today. 

What happens if someone doesn’t know that they’re breaking the law?

In the U.S., there is a fundamental legal principle that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. The laws apply to every person within a jurisdiction, whether they are known or not. This idea is based on the fact that citizens must understand and act per them. The laws have been made known to the public. The government makes them clear by ensuring they’re accessible to the general public by publishing them in journals, newspapers, printed publications, online, and other sources. Therefore, ignorance cannot be used as a defense. If the courts accepted ignorance as an excuse, any person charged with a crime could argue ignorance to avoid the consequences of their actions. In most cases, if someone doesn’t know they’re breaking the law, they will still bear the consequences of their actions.

Is Ignorance of the Law Ever a Valid Defense?

Nevertheless, limited circumstances allow ignorance of the law to be presented as a legitimate defense. While there is usually no requirement that a person be awarded that their actions are illegal to be convicted of a crime, there are instances in which an individual must have a specific intent for a crime to be committed. For the prosecution to press charges, they must prove a criminal defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They must demonstrate that the accused intended to commit a harmful act. However, if the accused was unaware that their actions constituted a crime, there may be a valid defense of ignorance if specific content was unclear.

Furthermore, ignorance of the law may be considered a valid defense if a brand new law has been passed and the public is not given sufficient time to be aware of it. If you unknowingly violated a recently passed law and can prove that it was not well publicized or is not widely known, you may be able to assert ignorance as a legitimate defense.

If you have been arrested for a crime when you did not know you were committing one, it’s in your best interest to enlist the legal assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. At the Cockrell Law Firm, P.C., we are prepared to fight the charges against you and clear your name.