But They Didn't Read Me My Rights!: Myths, Oddities, and Lies about Our Legal Systemby Michael JD Cicchini, Amy B. Kushner
Much of what we think we know about the law is actually a myth or misconception. This book debunks many of those myths and misconceptions by providing an entertaining yet educational tour of our American legal system, including its many oddities. In the process, the book answers many interesting legal questions about some of our most important, fascinating, and… See more details below
Much of what we think we know about the law is actually a myth or misconception. This book debunks many of those myths and misconceptions by providing an entertaining yet educational tour of our American legal system, including its many oddities. In the process, the book answers many interesting legal questions about some of our most important, fascinating, and surprising laws in an array of areas.
For example, the police do not have to read you your rights when they arrest you; in fact, sometimes they can even interrogate you without reading you your rights. Moreover, you can be charged and convicted of drunk driving for just turning the ignition key, even if you never drive the car or start the engine! While some contracts do have to be in writing to be enforceable, most don’t. The authors explain why.
Written in a lively, appealing style, the book is composed of self-contained chapters, each addressing a distinct legal myth, oddity, question, or misconception. Select your favorite topic or enjoy the authors’ witty and very informative discussion of the law cover-to-cover. Either way, you are assured of being entertained, enlightened, and surprised!
- Prometheus Books
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BUT THEY DIDN'T READ ME MY RIGHTS!MYTHS, ODDITIES, AND LIES ABOUT OUR LEGAL SYSTEM
By MICHAEL D. CICCHINI AMY B. KUSHNER
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2010 Michael D. Cicchini and Amy B. Kushner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIs it against the law to look at someone the wrong way?
Yes. It certainly can be. And not only might it be against the law, but it might also be considered criminal behavior for which you could wind up with probation, a hefty fine, a jail sentence (which is typically one year or less of incarceration), or, in some cases, even a lengthy prison sentence.
How can this possibly be? Well, it probably begins with our love of government. We love the concept of government so much that we have multiple layers of it. There is the federal government, the state governments, and then the multiple levels of local governments. On top of them, we have a slew of agencies and other governmental bodies, created by each and every level of government, that also have lawmaking authority. These laws consist of statutes, regulations, agency and court decisions, and ordinances, to name only a few. To be sure, we live in a legal maze.
For starters, then, every state government has a massive criminal code that prohibits many types of conduct, such as theft and drunk driving, for example. These criminal codes consist of hundreds, and sometimes a thousand or more, different crimes for which you can be prosecuted and punished. And as if these weren't enough, many of the lower levels of government within each state—such as the counties, cities, villages, and townships—create their own sets of laws called ordinances. Usually, these ordinances replicate the state's criminal code to a large extent, but sometimes they add even more prohibitions on our conduct.
So there may be a local ordinance in effect in your county, city, village, or township. This ordinance prohibits something called "mashing." If you are prosecuted for violating this ordinance, you could be convicted and could face a stiff forfeiture or fine. And if you can't pay, you could eventually receive a "commitment," which is a jail sentence for your failure to pay that fine. What is this ominous-sounding mashing from which our local communities need such vigorous protection? Hang on to your seats; here it is:
Mashing: no person shall improperly ogle—that is, to eye amorously or provocatively—any person of the opposite sex.
A close reading of this statute raises some interesting issues. First, what is a proper ogle as opposed to an improper ogle? If you properly eye a person amorously or provocatively, it's okay. But if you do so "improperly," it is against this particular law. And how do you know whether it's proper until you do it? Does this mean that only married people can ogle? And if so, how does one get married if he or she can't first ogle?
Second, why are gay men and lesbians excluded from this statute? If you eye someone of the same sex in an amorous or provocative manner, you're not violating the ordinance. The most likely explanation is that the government officials who dreamed up this law are somewhat sheltered and never even imagined that two people of the same sex could possibly ogle one another.
This law against mashing is not only on the books, but it actually gets used in prosecution. And the reality can get even worse. There is even a section in most states' criminal codes—the body of law that takes the form of a statute, rather than a noncriminal local ordinance—called disorderly conduct. It is criminal behavior to engage in disorderly conduct, and that crime is punishable with probation, jail time, or, if you have a prior criminal record, possibly even with prison time. Just what is this horrible disorderly conduct that simply has to be criminalized and punished? Here it is:
Disorderly Conduct: Whoever, in a public or private place, engages in indecent or otherwise disorderly conduct that tends to cause or provoke a disturbance is guilty of a misdemeanor crime.
This disorderly conduct statute has been used, countless times, to convict people for surprisingly minor behavior, including conduct in private places, such as in their own homes. And there is no need to prove that the conduct in question actually caused a disturbance; rather, if such conduct merely "tends to" cause a disturbance, that's enough to qualify as a crime.
So if someone was accused of ogling, an act that upset the person allegedly being ogled, the accused ogler could also be charged with disorderly conduct. How? Well, isn't improper ogling under the mashing ordinance also "indecent" conduct that "tends to cause or provoke a disturbance" under the criminal statute? It sure is. And you might even be convicted of both mashing and disorderly conduct for the same "criminal" act.
This disorderly conduct law is so vague and imprecise that it doesn't give us any notice of what specific conduct is considered criminal. For this reason, its constitutionality has been challenged many times but to no avail. The courts have fallen in love with this disorderly conduct statute, and it is here to stay.
But don't worry. If you don't have a prior criminal record, you might get away with a simple fine rather than jail time or probation, if in fact you are convicted of disorderly conduct.
So, the lesson is that we really need to watch whom we look at or how we appear to look at them these days. Either that, or maybe we should tell our government to stop making so many laws.
Excerpted from BUT THEY DIDN'T READ ME MY RIGHTS! by MICHAEL D. CICCHINI AMY B. KUSHNER Copyright © 2010 by Michael D. Cicchini and Amy B. Kushner. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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