One of the most important things lawyers must do when working on a case is finding precedent.

Precedent dictates whether or not they can make a critical move in the courtroom that might be vital to the success of their case or the failure of opposing counsel's. It can make all the difference in the entire world.

So naturally, one wants to look in as deeply as humanly possible.

u/Aegis12314 asked:

Lawyers, what's the most obscure law that you've actually used in a case?

Here were some of the answers.

Headlights Ruining Justice


One I heard from a criminal defense attorney in law school:

His client is driving down a country road at night without any lights on. A police officer is parked off the side of the road and, seeing the man drive by, pulls out behind him to follow him but also doesn't turn on their headlights. Eventually they pull the man over, and find that he has a lot of drugs in the cab of his trunk. Charges are brought for possession with intent to distribute.

They get to court, and the attorney cites the fact that, under the relevant state law, it is not legally required to have your headlights on at night unless there is another vehicle visible within 500 ft of your vehicle. Because the police officer was also driving without headlights, the man had no reason to see them, and therefore he was legally allowed to drive without his headlights on.

Because of this, there was no reason to have pulled the man over. Thus, the discovery of the drugs was "fruit of the poisonous tree." I.e. any evidence that is discovered improperly must also be excluded.

Case dismissed.


Begone Before Someone Drops A House On You

Engblom v. Carey is a good one.

Long story short, there was a prison workers' strike in NY, and the National Guard was called in to scab. Importantly, the Guard was put up in the on-site housing, where the prison workers had been living.

Here's the thing: according to the court, the Guard are soldiers. And the on-site housing was private residence.

As such, the decision to house them there actually violated the Third Amendment.

That was the first (and so far only) time the 3A was ever the basis of a significant decision, and it wasn't until 1983.


But A Single Goose

A law professor of mine was representing someone who owned a goose and was being sued by a neighbor because the deed said no geese. When the deed was written the singular and plural weren't interchangeable. Professor said deed only said no multiple geese and one goose was ok. Judge agreed.


The Cows Ain't Done Nothin'

Work for a debt collection law firm and we also do some subrogation work. State of Michigan has a law on the books from back in the day whereby cattle are exempt from liability in automobile accidents. Case involved an accident due to the cattle going across the road pretty suddenly and there was a car on cattle collision. Guess who got blindsided in court by this law from the 1800s?


If May Can't Do It, Bruges Can

Not yet applicable, but in case a no deal Brexit goes trough, 50 Bruges fishermen can continue fishing in British waters because of charter from 1666.

One fisherman already tried his luck, and the British were advised to not persue the case because most likely the charter is still in effect.

A full article on this :


Suppression Succession

I routinely cite a 1921 case regarding a forged railroad ticket when I'm trying to argue the "best evidence rule" of an original that's later been marked up with pen or has some notes on it. The case says that if something is printed out containing all the elements of what it's trying to do, then any handwriting on it is evidence that it's been altered and the "alterations must be shown to be lawful by whomever seeks to enter the item into evidence." Very good to use to keep things OUT of evidence.


Messin Up Errybody

I work at a lawyer's office (in Germany).

One of our lawyers managed to get our client off a speeding ticket by finding out whether or not you needed some sort of specific certificate to be allowed to operate the radar speeding gun.

He found out there indeed was some obscure certification (of many) that is needed and is supposed to be renewed every two years or so. The officers who wrote the speeding ticket hadn't renewed theirs in a while (apparently nobody did, though - nobody even really knew about that specific certificate).

He won the case. The judge agreed they shouldn't have been operating the radar gun without the certification, even though the dude really was speeding.


Cats Have A Staff

In the US, cats have the "right to roam" meaning cats are free to trespass on other peoples' property and essentially they're creatures of the world. Having a cat in your home that you care for does not necessarily mean you're the master of the cat or liable for its actions in the way you'd be liable for a dog's actions. Of course, there are exceptions where a cat's bad behavior is within your reasonable control and you did nothing to prevent it. cat law, y'all

In the US, cats don't need to be leashed or controlled in the same manner as dogs and they're free to roam.

Also people are weirdly hot about this topic? I never said that a cat should be free roam or that a cat couldn't be killed by a third party for trespass. Only that the "owner" of a cat will, in most cases, not be liable for their cat's actions while roaming.


Miss Me With That Age Stuff

I do remember hearing a story where this guy in Michigan was arrested for underage-drinking, but was only a couple of months away from turning 21. He went to court and pulled out an abortion-law for Michigan stating that "life begins at conception", so when he asked the judge if this law was still valid, which it was, he then stated that since that was the case, he was technically over 21 years of age and legal to drink.

The case was dismissed, and when the prosecutor made a stink about it, the guy said "'s your rules !".


Yummy Taxation


I'm no lawyer but there's a case that took place in the uk court, Her majesty's revenue and customs (HMRC) v McVities. McVities make a "biscuit" called Jaffa cakes and HMRC argues that they were a biscuit and subject to taxation. McVities argued that they were in fact a cake and cakes aren't subject to taxation. McVities made a bigger version of a Jaffa cake (cake size I guess) and argued that cakes go hard and biscuits go soft. The Jaffa cake went hard and McVities won the case...


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The Association for Psychological Science published a paper that reviewed some of the research:

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