Saturday, May 12, 2007

Soviet Era Secret Laws come to Amerika

Ignorance of the law is mandatory.

There is a staple of legal tradition called Ignorantia juris non excusat - Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It prevents the use of willful ignorance as a defense in lawbreaking (unless you are the president and and claim plausible deniability, or Attorney General and can't remember why you fired people). In effect it means that you are responsible for learning the law before you engage in actions that may break the law. Thus a builder can't do as he wishes and then claim that he is innocent of violating the building code because he didn't know the building code.

  • A side note; ignorance of the law doesn't mitigate guilt, but it can mitigate the sentence or punishment - a case where a businessman contacted customs officials about importing gambling equipment from Canada and was told it was legal, only to be charged later with illegal importation and found guilty, was given the sentence of an absolute discharge - no punishment.

A principle condition of Ignorantia juris non excusat it that the law is knowable - that it has been publicly published and available to those seeking to comply with it. The opposite of that is a Secret law, once a staple of the Soviet Union and Eastern European authoritarian regimes. It has now been embraced by the United States - authorized without notice by the Homeland Security Act.

The validity of secret laws in the United States has been upheld in federal court in cases related to TSA security directives. Where else they may apply we cannot know.

We aren't allowed to know.


Secret Laws - Washington Monthly

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