Is Ignorance of the Law Ever a Valid Defense?

While you may not realize it, nearly all your actions are governed by U.S. laws. Under our legal system, laws apply to every person within the jurisdiction, whether known or understood. This can often make it challenging to determine what constitutes a crime. That said, an individual can commit a crime without knowing it. If you’re accused of breaking a law you didn’t know existed; you may wonder whether you can assert ignorance of the law as a defense strategy. It’s a general legal principle that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Please continue reading to learn when ignorance of the law can be presented as a valid defense and how a qualified Rockland County Criminal Defense Attorney can fight for you today. 

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

While you’re not expected to be a legal expert, as it’s unrealistic for everyone to memorize all the laws, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. People cannot defend their actions by arguing that they don’t know the law. It would be too easy for people to use this excuse, as anyone charged with a criminal offense could claim ignorance to avoid the consequences of their actions.

That said, you can be arrested for unknowingly committing a crime. When the police have probable cause that you committed an illegal act, they can take you into custody. If you’re arrested, it’s crucial to assert your constitutional rights. You must exercise your right to remain silent and have an attorney present to represent you.

When can ignorance of the law be a valid excuse?

In most criminal cases, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense. However, in limited circumstances, it may be an acceptable defense. Depending on the criminal charges you’re facing, you may be able to assert ignorance as a defense if the crime requires that you have specific intent. Certain crimes need the prosecution to prove that a criminal defendant behaved knowingly and intentionally. Essentially, they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to commit a particular crime. If you were unaware that your actions constituted a crime, you may be able to assert ignorance as a valid defense.

Furthermore, ignorance of the law may be asserted as a valid excuse when a statute is brand new. In rare cases, the law is found invalid when the government doesn’t give the public adequate notice. Therefore, if you unknowingly broke a law that is new and not yet well-publicized, you may be able to use this defense. Nevertheless, it’s imperative to understand that you cannot choose to be ignorant about the law to avoid prosecution.

If you didn’t have knowledge of a specific law, it’s in your best interest to retain the legal services of a skilled attorney from the Law Office of Carl Spector, who can help you determine whether you can present ignorance of the law as a legitimate defense. Contact us today to learn how we can help you combat your charges.