Law Basics That I’m Always Shocked Normal People Don’t Know

(This is all unofficial, off the top of my head legal babble and is not to be mistaken for legal advice. Yes, it’s sad that I have to disclaim that to make sure I don’t get sued or reported to the ethics board, but my people make the rules and we’re a bunch of wankers. Oh, I also should disclaim after the use of wankers that I am not British, nor am I presenting myself as such 😉

While my main purpose of blogging is to promote the craft of writing (which, honestly, I’m doing no matter what I’m writing about) I did say this will have legal stuff in it, so I thought I should deliver.

There are soooooo many things the average American doesn’t know about law that all of us human-shark hybrids think are common knowledge.  Here’s a few points off the top of my head that I was absolutely shocked to hear people didn’t know.

1. The law isn’t a pyramid of jurisdictions going local, state, then federal at the top.  A lot of people think that state law is a subset of federal law.

It isn’t.

The states were the original blocks for the castle that is the US, and all have their own laws.  So, it’s legal to do things in some states that is illegal in others.  And the feds only get to have a say when they can tie their laws back to a power enumerated in the Constitution.

With me so far?

Now, the federal law does get to trump state law that conflicts when they have jurisdiction, so that’s where that feds are on top mentality comes from.

And then there’s the Supreme Court, rules over all the land, right?  Wrong, only when its a federal issue.  If it is strictly a state law and there’s no way for feds to get into it through something like protecting people’s rights under the Constitution, then it goes up to the State Supreme Court and that’s it.

State and fed are two different jurisdictions. one is not a subset of the other.  Which also means, you can be charged and punished for the same crime if it violates state and federal law in both jurisdictions without that violating double jeopardy rules.  Hahaha, you didn’t know that one, did ya?  Don’t piss off state and federal authorities at the same time, that’s all I can say.

2. The rights in the Constitution do not, may I repeat, DO NOT protect you from other private citizens! You know the whole Duck Dynasty thing?  Where the guy got fired for what he said?  I was flabbergasted by the amount of people on Facebook saying he shouldn’t have been fired because he was protected under the First Amendment.  Um, no.  The First Amendment protects you from the government infringing on your right to free speech (and even that isn’t 100%, check out obscenity laws).  So unless the employer is a government entity, they can fire your ass for talking (pun intended).

3. There is a difference between a legal question and a factual question in court.  A legal question is for the judge to decide, a factual question is for the jury.  The jury decides through a trial what happened, as in what events happened when.  And the judge says, taking those facts to be true, as found by the jury, what the statutes and previous case law say to do on the matter.

4. There is an entire area of legal scholarship called Evidence.  We take a class in it, it’s 1/6th of the multiple choice questions on the bar, and usually (depending on your state) at least 1 of the essay questions on the bar.  And it is allllllll about what the jury (aka, average citizens) can see when.  Moral of this story?  Lawyers don’t trust you any more than you trust them 😀


13 thoughts on “Law Basics That I’m Always Shocked Normal People Don’t Know

  1. Love these – thanks for sharing! I have a friend who is an attorney and she is also frequently shocked when I ask about what I think is a legal protection when there is no protection at all – specifically with employment law.
    I hope this is just the first of many that you share.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, plain English. It’d change my mind (a little) about lawyers if they always communicated this way. Except maybe when in the courtroom. Defending me. 🙂 Seriously, good read. Do more.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remind people they have “freedom of speech” but not any freedom from the reaction of people to that free speech. You want to promote slavery, segregation on having sex with underage ducklings, expect a few tomatoes to be thrown your way.

    More important to address, in my view, is when common words or phrases used in the law do not mean what people think they mean. A good example of this is “knowingly.” A law that says it’s a misdemeanor to “knowingly assault a police officer” would seem to imply that it doesn’t apply if you punch the obnoxious loudmouth insulting your wife and it turns out he’s an off-duty cop. But “knowingly assault” according to the courts means you knew you assaulted the person… not that you knew he was a cop.

    I’ve long known that someone who commits a crime — stealing a car for example — can be prosecuted multiple times if the government really wants them in jail. Steal a car in San Francisco and drive it to Sacramento. You can be charged with possession of a stolen auto in each county you traveled through. Just because general state policy is to prosecute in either the originating or capturing county doesn’t mean they can’t try you in each county.


  4. Differing from what you said, I have always understood that the Jury has a right and (sometimes unspoken duty) to judge both facts and law, under the general description of jury nullification. It may require subtlety (eg: not saying those words), but it is still one of our last-ditch defenses.

    My understanding is that the right to a jury of one’s peers was to limit the ability of the state to punish citizens beyond society’s agreement on what constitutes a crime. Historically, I believe that Prohibition was undermined as convictions became much more difficult to obtain.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m in Canada, but I’m also one of those who is just not able to keep all that stuff in my brain, it is too full of my crap. I do find it interesting though. Thanks Amie, for following my blog!

    Liked by 1 person

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