Any judge will typically tell you that ignorance of the law is not a defense to criminal charges. However, when it comes to many crimes, you may not even know that you committed a crime in the first place. If you truly did not know that your conduct was illegal, you may be able to defend yourself against unnecessary charges. In many cases, you wouldn’t be able to fathom that somebody did not know that driving under the influence was against the law. A judge wouldn’t buy that. This is why judges take a close look at mistake of fact cases, because they must tread carefully.
Every year, thousands of new laws come into effect. In fact, in 2014, the media reported that 40,000 new laws were being introduced on federal, state, and local levels. The U.S. Supreme Court judged in Bouie v. City of Columbia that “fair notice” must be given for a crime, holding that criminal law “must give warning of the conduct makes a crime.” This requirement is satisfied when you know that the crime is wrongful and obvious, and whether or not an individual actually knew that is was wrong. The problem remains that some of these crimes are not very serious, but can be life-changing and even life-ruining if you end up charged even though you didn’t know better. For instance, in one case, a resident in California was charged with “defacement, damage and destruction” because he trimmed shrubbery next to his home even though he wasn’t supposed to.
If you are rationally ignorant of the law and were in a position where you believed that the charged conduct was actually legal, you may be able to use this as a defense. Mistake of fact is viable in many cases, except typically not those that involve statutory rape. Call us today at The Law Office of Peter Blair for more information on how we can help.