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Is Ignorance of the Law Really a Defense?

June 2, 2017

For most crimes, ignorance of the law is not a defense.

Is Ignorance of the Law Really a Defense?

There is an old say that ignorance of the law is no excuse — and in the majority of cases, this old saying is true. Not knowing the law is simply not a defense for a criminal act in the vast majority of cases. But for some cases, ignorance of the law may actually be a defense. As a criminal defense attorney in Riverside, CA can tell you, if the crime in question requires you to have a specific intent, then the prosecution may have to prove that you knew about it in order to prove that you were breaking it.

First, as a general matter, it is important to know that you will not be able to claim that you simply did not know about the law as a defense to charges against you for the vast majority of criminal cases. For example, if you were caught vandalizing property, you won’t be able to claim that you didn’t know that it was against the law to smash out the windows on a business in order to get out of the charges. If you hit a person, the prosecution won’t let you go if you say that you didn’t know that it was a crime to punch people who made you made. The general principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse holds true for most cases.

However, in some limited circumstances, ignorance of the law can be an excuse. For example, if there was not public notice about a law, then you could truly be said to be ignorant of the law in question. This will be rare, as laws are passed in a specific process in state legislatures in a public manner, but if a law is brand new and hasn’t been well-publicized, your criminal defense attorney in Riverside, CA could make an argument that you were unaware of the law. This may be particularly true if the law is unusual and criminalizes behavior that is lawful elsewhere.

Ignorance of the law may also be an excuse for specific intent crimes. Some crimes require you to act willfully, or intentionally. This may relate to your state of mind — such as your intent to hurt another person — or to your intent to break the law. If you did not have knowledge of the law, then you could not have violated the law. A skilled criminal defense attorney in Riverside, CA can make the argument that ignorance of the law is a defense in this case. However, it is important to know that you cannot attempt to stay willfully ignorant of the law in order to be prosecuted. Your defense lawyer can advise you as to whether ignorance of the law will be a viable option as a defense in your case given the charges and specific facts.

At the Chambers Law Firm, we represent clients who have been charged with crimes in Riverside and throughout Southern California. Contact our office today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation and learn more about how our experienced attorneys will fight for your rights and your freedom.

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