See You Later, Litigator…

Some borderline freak engaged me in conversation yesterday in order to impart what they held to be an indispensable gem about a bizarre law of the State of Michigan. That will teach me to acquiesce to the promise of a stop’n’chat.

The so-called ‘fact’ is both true an untrue. It is said that it is against the law to tie an alligator to a fire hydrant. But this is true only in that it is against the law to tie anything to a fire hydrant in that state.

You would have to wonder why the urban legend of the law would have been of note and not the fact that somebody might have been walking an alligator on a lead in public? But hey, ours not to reason why, etc.

We have our share of obscure laws in the UK that have never been repealed, many of them falling under the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839. As an example, it being illegal to beat or shake a mat, carpet, or a rug in the streets of London. You can imagine some conviction-hungry bobby dragging some fink and his shag pile up before the beak, while gangs of thugs armed with hammers zip in and out of pedestrian malls on stolen mopeds bopping office workers with impunity. They’re beating anything that moves, so the population of Axminster rugs are safe though indifference rather than any assertive policing strategy.

We are often told that ignorance of the law is no defence – that’s either ignorantia juris non excusat or ignorantia legis neminem excusat to you and me. It’s the flipped-over solution by legislators all over the world to combat the first recourse of the scoundrel and to prevent wilful ignorance becoming the foundation of exculpation.

So bizarrely, many statutes impute knowledge of all laws to citizens within their jurisdiction, but given the prevalence of lawyers on the plot, it’s generally understood that there is a lot with which the ordinary man on the street is not going to cope without specialist help. And that relates only to that of which he is aware. There does rather seem to be a large gap between the obligations placed on us by society and its expectations of our ability to cope effectively. That’s a considerable chasm into which many a citizen will inadvertently tumble. Pretty scary that most of us are walking about taking decisions and acting on them, with only a vague awareness of whether we are within or outside the law. Not to mention the vulnerability of which we are aware but cannot address owing to the cost.

I mean, even a top QC can end up in bother for tweeting about a dead fox. Tell me that he did that in the knowledge that the inevitable consequence would be the unceremonious deposit of a cistern-load of brown loveliness atop his powdered wig. If it could happen to him, how precarious is it for non-experts?

In some circumstances it’s going to be obvious. Steal a moped and cave in a jeweller’s window with a sledgehammer and you’re not going to be high-fived by a Crown Court Judge any time soon. You’re going to be looking at some serious bird, my son.

Ask somebody out on a date and do so ineptly, and you could be had up for harassment. Or land unequivocally on your feet. You really just don’t know until you’ve made a decision to act or until the local CID kick in your door. And therein lies the rub. And, we’re not just talking any form of physical rubbing which is one would have to conclude to be a hit-or-miss strategy, whether undertaken on a solo basis or in tandem.

In the US (where three-quarters of the world’s lawyers are domiciled – true fact), some legal figures are recommending that men obtain signed consent forms before engaging in any rumpy pumpy. That’s going to a problem in Hollywood because it’s a big ask to get a child to write legibly after they’ve been drugged. Even to keep hold of the pen if you’ve tripped and fallen on them. And presumably you’re going to need some independent witnesses in order to formalise.

Could be awks.

It did get me thinking though, about the best time to pull out the contract and any associated waiver form. It sounds bonkers, but retrospectively when you’re looking at 5-10 years inside, it probably stands out as a comparatively sound insurance policy, worth the premium of intense excruciation.

The more you contemplate it, the more your vulnerability to chance or misunderstanding bitch-slaps you like a transitioning ghetto princess. Even if acquitted, the process can still shred your reputation, your nerves, and your bank account – and that goes for any accusation of wrong-doing.

You see, while the police are working purely to establish evidence that you may have committed a crime (and also have an obligation to assess evidence that leads away from a suspect), it’s a hell of a lot easier for them to put up a prima facie case of your guilt, than it is to build a positive case that you didn’t do something. As a result, most case management strategies work to propose that the prosecution has failed to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. So, you might get a ‘not guilty’ verdict, but that’s a world away from exoneration in the eyes of your peers.

And in some cases, the police can keep coming back for another pop. Whereas in the US, the principle of ‘autrefois acquit’ is absolute – a defendant cannot be re-tried once acquitted – in the separate jurisdictions of the UK, there are differing circumstances where you might be hauled back in front of M’Lud for the cops to have a second bite at the cherry.

No wonder all there’s so much criminality in the world. I guess the thinking is that if you’re going to get busted anyway, you might as well rack up some credit in advance.

unsplash-logoFelix Koutchinski

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