So we all know that ignorance of the law is not a defense to a crime. However, what would be your guess if a police officer doesn’t know the law and arrests you based on law that only exists in his head?
If you guessed that would be just fine then you should become a Supreme Court Justice.
I had a case where a driver only had one functioning tail light on his car. And, to my surprize when I looked up the law, Illinois law said that all you had to have was one functioning tail light. The judge disagreed. He cited that the purpose of the law was public safety and it was more dangerous to drive around with only one tail light. Of course he made that call with no scientific basis, but that’s the way it goes in traffic court.
I had always thought that the judge got it wrong there, however it turns out that the Supreme Court just heard a very similar case from North Carolina. And they found that it if an officer makes a “reasonable” mistake about the law, then they can stop your vehicle for that mistaken belief.
So, now I think the judge (in my case) and the Supreme Court got it wrong for this reason. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. If we are going to have a set of rules that we write down somewhere, and that we will allow no mistakes for us common folk not knowing what the law is, then what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.
If we choose not to have it that way, then we tacitly admit that a person, even a trained officer can’t know the law, and well if he can’t know the law then perhaps we need simpler laws.
Law Dude, Ray Flavin, is a DUI attorney who represents drivers that have been charged with DUI in McHenry County Illinois. His law offices are located across the street from the McHenry County Courthouse in Woodstock, IL.