Lawyers Share The Most Surprising Laws They've Encountered In Their Career


Time to lawyer up! Surprisingly, there are a ton of laws that even those who have passed the bar exam don't even know about. But when they come up in the real world of lawyering, they mean business. And these lawyers will tell you all about the strangest laws they've seen on the job.

u/Sutec asked: Lawyers of Reddit, what were you amazed to discover was legal/illegal when you were still a student?

Go nuts.

In Canada, it is illegal to frighten the Queen.


Absolute chaos.


When I was in school, I was shocked to learn that my state's legal definition of "mayhem" wasn't making a public scene or causing damage, but rather cutting off a body part (or rendering it useless), putting out an eye, cutting out the tongue, or slitting the nose, ears, or lip of another person. Allstate commercials had me thinking that it was just kind of a chaos.

Not that I was surprised that mayhem was against the law - just that it was that specific in how it was defined.



First cousins can get legally married in a lot of states.

West Virginia is not one of those states.


Before Obergefell v. Hodges 2015, more states allowed first-cousin marriage than gay marriage.


Last resort.

I am most surprised at people's misperceptions about their private right to violence.

Most places in the U.S., many people think there are lots of situations where they could harm someone with impunity.

In reality, there are very few situations in which using violence is legal. Even in some situations where using violence is necessary, proving it in court (civilly or criminally) can ruin you.

Violence should be your last resort.


Get out and stay out!


You can't boobytrap your own property.


Booby traps demonstrate an intent to cause bodily harm. Liability is huge, and their are legally acceptable reasons to trespass.

By the way, saying "you're trespassing" is not proof of trespass. True.



During my 2L year, SCOTUS' landmark Texas v. Lawrence ruling came down. Google it. That is when I learned that up to that point, it was illegal in Texas for consenting adults to have gay sex in the privacy of their own home and you will get arrested for it. Blew my mind that we still had anti-liberty laws like that being enforced.

The public saw it as legalizing gay sex, but it was much larger than that, it reaffirmed that a right to privacy exists in the Constitution even though it is an unenumerated right (unenumerated meaning nowhere does it explicitly say in the Constitution that there is a right to privacy, it is a right that the courts have inferred from enumerated rights, in this case the right to due process under the 14th Amendment).


Even the judge thought this one was silly.

When I clerked for a judge, there would be some continuing education-type events for judges at the courthouse where they'd learn various developments in law.

At one of them, some of the judges were surprised to learn that you can be charged with "possession of an open container of alcohol" for a container that is closed but has been unsealed.

"So if I have a half-full bottle of wine, I can't cork it and walk down the street to bring it to a friends house for dinner?" The presenter said that was correct. Then a long silence. Then one of the judges said quietly: "Huh....Well, I'm still gonna do it."


No head or hands.


It is illegal in my state for a tattoo artist to tattoo the head/face or hands of anyone, even if that person wants to be tattooed there.

I was more surprised to learn that this law is enforced. It's a serious health and safety violation, but having just one of those means you can't operate a tattoo parlor.

The history of the law is also fascinating. It was put in place to prevent the state government from using tattoos to permanently mark individuals for their crimes. No judge could ever have the words "Poor Impulse Control" tattooed on an individual. Sorry Mr. Stephenson.



Adverse possession of real estate. You can literally just start using someone's property and if you do it openly, and meet a few other criteria, it becomes yours.


Sorry, WHAT?

I'm not studying law and will never be but when I learned that you can turn on the light in the car while driving WITHOUT BEING ARRESTED I had the feeling that my whole life was a lie.


I was never told that that was illegal, but I was always told it was unsafe. Basically, the driver's eyes are adjusted to seeing in the "dark" outside, headlights against darkness, and interior lighting makes the outside difficult to see. I don't know the science, but I know that there's a big difference between looking out my window at night at home when the living room light's on versus when it's off.

Either way, the cardinal rule of all driving situations is the driver's rules take precedence. Like, there's no law against having the window down, but if you put the window down when I'm driving, I'm going to kick your a**.


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