Actually yes, ignorance of the law is an excuse

There are countless laws. Literally.

Maybe not in the mathematical sense – it is technically possible to count the laws in existence, but based on a colloquial and general use of the term “countless” it is not really feasible for someone to count every law. Just this year, 40,000 laws were passed and are set to go into effect. On the other hand, we rarely hear news about laws being repealed.

At this rate, if it is a monumental task to even count the laws, certainly, one can never know all the laws. And then – even if one knows generally of many laws, it is further impossible to understand the laws with requisite detail so as to ensure compliance.

Yet, people are told over and over by police, prosecutors, and the justice system that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

To all the police, prosecutors, asshole judges, and other groveling subjects who insist on the “rule of law” –  actually, yes, ignorance is an excuse. Perhaps one would be viewed as disingenuous when claiming he or she did not know murder, theft, or rape was against the law. However, when 40,000 laws are passed each year, each with possibly hundreds of pages of details, it is a perfectly legitimate excuse to claim one is ignorant of said laws.

This is especially the case because most laws do not prevent murder, theft, or rape, which of course are the most obvious and justified prohibitions. Personal violations and property violations – that’s 2 laws. Total. It’s reasonable to throw in a few more for different degrees of personal violations (e.g. 2nd degree murder, voluntary and/or involuntary manslaughter, assault and battery), and different types of theft or property violations (e.g. fraud, embezzlement, petty theft, larceny, robbery, trespassing). That might get us to 15, and for the most part, that’s the bulk of the law that is reasonable or necessary. So where did the other 40,000 per year come from?

They are almost all useless or repetitive. They come from lobbyists, power-hungry politicians who want to appear to be “doing something” and from idiots who do not understand the meaning of statistical significance. One freak tragedy happens, and suddenly the relatives of the victim are lobbying, protesting, and demanding their local sleazeball politician to “do something” about any act, behavior, or substance remotely related to the tragedy, despite the fact that those acts, behaviors or substances are completely safe and hurt no one 99.99 percent of the time. I can almost guarantee you that if someone happened to run out of their house, slip on a banana peel, smash their face into a fence and die, that a committee of concerned citizens and responsive politicians will form to demand the death penalty upon people who litter banana peels, or to throw people in jail for running out of their houses.

If you visit this fun website by a couple of lawbreakers blogging their criminal activity, you will learn that it is illegal to peel an orange in a hotel in Los Angeles. It is illegal to fish while wearing pajamas in Chicago, IL. Playing an instrument with the intention of luring someone into a store is illegal in Indian Wells, CA. It is illegal in Globe, AZ to play cards with an Indian. Drinking a beer from a bucket is illegal in St. Louis, MO. Sleeping on a refrigerator is illegal in Pittsburgh.

I haven not personally verified the existence of these laws, but I can tell you with fair certainty about a multitude of other absurd laws that do exist. For instance, Alabama only legalized interracial marriage in 2000. Altruistic war veteran Antonio Buehler learned recently that spitting on a police officer is a third degree felony in Texas. When he observed an officer abusing a woman, he stopped to take pictures, and was attacked by police and arrested. Videos taken do not show him spitting police, but nevertheless, police accused him of doing so and charged him with harassment of a public official, a third degree felony (as a side note, spitting on a regular person would not nearly rise to a felony, because regular people aren’t gods, like the police are).

In yet another display of legal absurdity, a marine biologist faces 20 years in prison for violating an obscure federal environmental law. Nancy Black was in her research boat when killer whales attacked and killed a gray whale calf. Blubber floated to the surface, and the killer whales were getting ready to feed. Ms. Black threaded ropes through some blubber and lowered a camera under water. She has been indicted by a federal grand jury for violating the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (more here).

In many cities, it is de facto illegal to feed the homeless. And of course, in most states in America, due to the rise of the “Resisting Arrest” charge, people literally can be arrested for doing absolutely nothing.

Above all, the most important element to note is that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” only applies to the peons of America. It does not apply to prosecutors, judges, police, or other powerful people.  Police have qualified immunity for various actions they take on the job. Prosecutors have even greater immunity. The Supreme Court held in Imbler v. Pachtman that absolute immunity of public prosecutors is “based on the policy of protecting the judicial process.” Thus, prosecutors face no recourse for even the most malicious of actions – knowingly using falsified evidence.

The Supreme Court is currently considering the issue of whether there is a Constitutional right to “not be framed.” (Yes, the system is that evil – they actually have to debate whether there is a “right not to be framed”). Judges also have absolute civil immunity, so if the Supreme Court decides there is no Constitutional right “not to be framed” they will not be held accountable, and all anyone can do about it is cry. (Read more about all these immunities here).

Next time you hear anyone talk about “the rule of law” or “ignorance of the law is no excuse” it’s worth pondering what exactly that means. In the context of America, it inevitably means oppression and arbitrary results from a system that operates off an extensive, random mire of nonsensical dictates decreed by tyrants.



Georgia Sand

Georgia (George) Sand is an attorney located in sunny California. She enjoys beer, jogging, the beach, music, and chatting with her cats in her spare time.

  • Andy

    George great article!

  • Greg Beaman

    Best copblock article in months! Excellent!

  • Pete Malloy

    This is one of the few articles I can actually agree with. The amount of laws passed in a legislative session are ridiculous. However, there are hundreds of laws repealed as well, but if you don’t actually follow the session you will never hear about it. Thank you for a welcome break from Man Child and Boy Blunders endeavors to antagonize police. It is a like a welcome commercial break. The problems start at the top, because lobbyist run this country, and as a result votes mean nothing.

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  • Dan

    Excellent article. I remember reading about these 40,000+ laws being passed, and was so dumbfounded I didn’t know how to even begin commenting on it. Thank you for taking the time to do so.

    Regarding the comment about laws against feeding the homeless (although I have not yet visited the site you’ve linked to), I remember while living in SF in the 80’s that there was a group called, I think, ‘Food no bombs’, and they routinely set up areas to give away food in Golden Gate Park, in the Haight, and were routinely arrested.

    How can you arrest somebody for giving away food? It’s truly frightening. And that was thirty years ago!

    At 40,000 laws per year, that’s 1,200,000 laws passed since! Damn! Is it still legal to eat?

  • Henry Bowman

    It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

    In a September 3, 2003 article published by, it was revealed that IRS employees at the Internal Revenue Service’s own “tax help centers” gave correct answers to just 57 percent of tax law questions asked by Treasury Department investigators posing as taxpayers.

    If government employees paid to know the law don’t know the law, how can we be expected to?

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  • Great article, I am a delivery captain for yachts and have been accused and indictment pending for having received two small sound suppressors for a yacht’s security equipment. It was my understanding the article’s had just been made legal to both posses and use in the State of Washington. Apparently they are but (which I had no idea of) one is still required to pay a $200.00 Federal permit fee! This I was not aware of and I thought it was perfectly legal. Is my ignorance of this a valid defense?

  • MrChristian says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    March 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm
    Great article, I am a delivery captain for yachts and have been accused and indictment pending for having received two small sound suppressors for a yacht’s security equipment. It was my understanding the article’s had just been made legal to both posses and use in the State of Washington. Apparently they are but (which I had no idea of) one is still required to pay a $200.00 Federal permit fee! This I was not aware of and I thought it was perfectly legal. Is my ignorance of this a valid defense?

  • Rob

    MrChristian, I am also a Yacht Captain and I would recommend contacting a Maritime Second Amendment attorney or the NRA’s legal team for advise.

    As you already know we “Captains” are subject to up to 4 country’s laws. The flag of the ship, our country of birth, the country we are sailing in and international law.

    Your comment is kind of vague but its sounds like you may have broken a WA state law and possibly a Federal law by not obtaining the correct permit.

    The general discussions forum at
    stays very active and you may find someone that has gone through a similar experience to yours that can tell you how they handled the situation.

    Good luck, happy sailing and keep us updated, at least myself as to how things work out for yourself.

    Rob (at) copblock .org

  • Rob, Please contact me at
    Or call me at 206-714-9549

  • Hi George,

    Nice article. Speaking from the UK, I have always wondered where our legal system gets off saying that ignorance of the law is no defence. That’s coming from a system that insists that children are educated with religious education, foreign languages and sports … no mention of a minimum level of legal education !

    I think that if a country insists that its residents must be mindful of all laws, then it is only right and proper for the residents to have enough time to read and ask questions before holding them to account. I would estimate that the time provided should be approximately 90 years or so ;-)

    All the best

    Colin :-)

  • Charles

    Damn, that is good. And sadly, it’s true.

  • Chad

    Ignorance of the Law is an excuse; However, it is not a legal defense.

    Disclaimer: I am not an Attoney and you should seek a registered attoney in your area. This is not legal advice but opinion.

  • Dan

    It’s like back in the days of the Salem Witch Trials where they said Witchcraft was very difficult to prove, so they just assumed you were guilty. It’s the same thing with ignorance of the law; it’s very difficulty to prove that you actually know about a certain law (in less you were previously in court for that same type of crime), so they just prosecute you anyway. Yes, our law system is just like, if not much worse, than the law system during the Salem Witch Trials in this way.

    Something is definitely wrong in claiming that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” when there are hundreds of thousands (or more?) laws, thousands more more being made every year of course, some of which take up almost as much (or more?) space as the bible by them self, let alone how the hell do we find these “laws”?

    Well, like you said, most of those laws we don’t know about don’t really need to exist. Why the hell do I need a permit to go fishing or to hold a workout session in the park? Aren’t both of those a totally normal human right to have without the law getting its filthy claws involved? Am I really expected to know that I need a permit and how to get it? Think about it, do animals need permits to hunt or “work out”? and aside from some exceptions, most animals don’t kill or hurt their own kind without a good reason.

    It’s like the law assumes we have no rights in less expressed in official writing, and even THOSE are constantly being chipped away at (1st, 2nd, and 4th amendments especially). “The right to bear arms shall NOT be infringed!” Need a permit to own a gun? That’s infringement buddy.

    Don’t even get me started on the government’s complicated tax laws and the right to tax you just because you “exist” (Obama Care Penalty? Actually I don’t think you have to pay that, because the IRS can only take it out of your tax refund, but what if you don’t get one?). But what about car insurance? If you can’t afford to pay for an accident at your fault then why can’t you just get debt, and maybe revoked driving privileges until you pay it back? See, you don’t need car insurance either.

    It’s endless, the rights that we SHOULD have but don’t. If you want my opinion on what the federal, state, county, AND town lawmakers should be doing, it should be mass repealing all those dumb old laws, NOT creating that many (if any) new ones, and if they do, make every law expire in a few years in less voted on to renew them otherwise. Eventually most all of what Congress and other lawmakers should really only have to do is meet once to discuss the annual budget, and be called upon for emergencies such as a War. It should then become a voluntary or part time job status, as it would no longer be a full one.

  • ChanzaLando

    Common Law (common sense) is the supreme law of ANY land, the US Constitution which establishes the US of A is actually a Common Law document.

    Common Law is obvious that if you cannot know all the rules you cannot be expected to follow them. US Contract law follows the same principle and voids any contract where any party is not privileged to know ALL the conditions.

    This makes the entire “legal” standing of the US of A and all “State” governments an unlawful fraudulent illegitimate entity. It has lost all legal standing since there is not a single Police Officer, Juror, Judge, Lawyer or Politician who knows ALL the rules, let alone the people themselves. The courts are illegal criminal operations that bend the law, make up the law, re-interpret the law, and victimize with select “laws” as they see fit.

    We have lost all legitimacy of a “government” at all. We have been under an organized criminal tyranny for a long time now, which may as well be Anarchy. We are devoid of actual courts, actual officials, actual police officers, and actual politicians. Every office “claimed” is illegitimate under all legal definition.

    The question is, are we going to replace the lack of government and rule of crime? Are we going to build our own strong and self-governed communities and cease to recognize the claimed “authority” of these criminals or what? How many more people have to die, be tortured, caged, or victimized before we do something about it!

    More importantly, when are we going to stop using illegal fake unbacked IOU notes as “money” and paying them with the fruits of our labor?

  • Glenn Gallaher

    Mind if I use this quote in the future in possible legal proceedings to bring back some accountability to the police and those that pretend to uphold the law?