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Is Ignorance of The Law a Viable Defense in California?

Posted by Dan Kann | Sep 23, 2023 | 0 Comments

Is Ignorance of The Law a Viable Defense in California?

In California and elsewhere in the United States, ignorance of the law cannot be used as a defense as per a fundamental legal principle. People charged with criminal offenses would begin claiming ignorance if it was accepted as an excuse. Laws within a jurisdiction apply to everyone, regardless of whether they are understood or known. This is based on the notion that laws are made public through newspapers, government journals, online and printed publications, and other sources.

Ignorance of Law Defense in California

Ignorance of law is unacceptable as a defense in California. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. You should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been arrested for an act which you were not aware was a crime. In some situations, there are possible legal defenses against the criminal charges you are facing.

Ignorance of law can be a valid excuse in very limited circumstances. In general, there is no requirement for a person to be aware of the illegalities of their action for a crime to be committed. For instance, in some states, marijuana is legal for recreational purposes. Correlating with this, if you drive over into some neighboring state (where recreational marajuana is illegal), you could be arrested, charged, and convicted of possession. This is true even if you were not aware that recreational use of marijuana was not legal in that state.

Exceptions to the Ignorance Rule

These are a few instances in which ignorance of law can be used as a plausible defense in California:

Specific Intent Crimes

When it comes to specific intent crimes, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended both the act and a specific result or consequence of that act. This can be arson, forgery, burglary, robbery, or any other violation that requires a particular frame of mind. There can be a valid defense of ignorance if the person committing the crime was not aware that it was a crime since specific intent is not present or clear. However, there is a difference between intent and being aware that a particular as is illegal. If one intended to set fire to a building but did not know that setting a building on fire is illegal, they can still be convicted of arson.

General Intent Crimes

General intent usually means that a defendant intended to commit the act in question, but not necessarily that they intended the specific consequences that resulted from that act. In other words, for crimes of general intent, the prosecution only needs to show that the defendant intended to do the act that constitutes the crime. Some examples of general intent crimes are, battery, assault, rape, manslaughter, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and driving under the influence (DUI). 

Differences in local and state traffic laws

Traffic laws can be different depending on the state and city. Typically, notices and signs need to be posted to warn motorists and other drivers of the different rules in a particular area. Ignorance of law can be used as a valid defense in court by an experienced attorney if certain actions are against the law in a particular area, however, there were no warnings of signs posted to apprise of the same.

New laws

The general public may not have enough time to understand or know of a new law when it is brand new. Ignorance may be a defense if you unknowingly violated a law that is yet to be widely known or publicized. This is particularly true if the new law criminalizes certain actions and behaviors that are legal in other places.

In most cases, police may arrest you for unknowingly committing a crime. Moreover, it falls on the jury to decide whether you are guilty or innocent. You should always keep your constitutional rights in mind if you are arrested.

Speak with a Skilled and Dedicated Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The legal team at Kann California Law Group has a proven track record of resolving arrests quietly and quickly. We have decades of combined experience in handling a wide array of complex criminal matters. To set up your free and confidential consultation, call us at (888) 744-7730 or reach us online.

About the Author

Dan Kann

Daniel E. Kann has devoted his entire legal career exclusively to defending individuals facing criminal prosecution in Southern California. Dan fights criminal cases throughout Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.


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