“Officer, I thought I was going the speed limit.”
Ignorance as a legal defense has been tried repeatedly since the dawn of law enforcement. People understandably make mistakes and, in many cases, do not understand or have awareness of the law they are accused of violating.
While we don’t represent clients in basic traffic cases (we do handle DUI and OWI cases, however), we have come across numerous cases where clients genuinely did not understand the law. So, is ignorance ever a valid legal defense?
Even if you didn’t know, you still violated the law
The responsibility of law enforcement and the legal system is to enforce the laws as written. Oftentimes, the reason someone committed a crime has little-to-no bearing on the outcome of a case because motive is written into the law itself.
The Constitution guarantees everyone a fair trial, so it may be up to a jury of your peers to ultimately decide whether or not your ignorance excuses you. You and your attorney need to work together to build a solid legal defense and ignorance is unlikely to be your strongest defense.
Willful vs. ignorant
Claiming ignorance may at least disqualify any claims you willfully or intentionally committed a crime, however. Certain laws, including murder laws, factor in premeditation and motive. If the law you are accused of violating considers those factors then ignorance may at least prevent you from being convicted of the highest level of offenses.
While ignorance is a weak legal defense (at best), there are some scenarios where it can be valid. When new laws are implemented that have not been clearly communicated to the public or have been inconsistently enforced then ignorance may actually be justified. The legal system has a responsibility to the people to publicly communicate any changes to the law in order to avoid confusion.
Laws also differ from state to state, but this does not mean you can claim “Well, it’s legal in my state!” You are expected to operate within the law of the jurisdiction you are in.
If you are accused of a crime in Indiana, whether you live here or not, it’s imperative to build a sound legal defense to protect your future. At Blankenship Law, we focus on the facts of your case to get a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding your defense. While ignorance is rarely a valid defense, we will consider how it impacts your defense as a whole. Contact our team and get your legal defense started today.