(This was my first legal post on this blog. It made it big on FB, around 150 shares, still no clue why, but I’m glad because these are a few very basic legal principles the average person doesn’t seem to know and probably should 🙂
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, 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.
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 it’s 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. Jurors don’t get to say what the law is, they are told what the law is and to play fact finder.
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 during a trial. You can’t have stuff in that’ll “inflame the jury,” basically that’ll make them irrationally emotional. Can’t have stuff the judge has determined is irrelevant, because then lawyers could just pile a ton of stuff on and drag out the trial for yearrrrrrrs. Can’t put in stuff like the person suing or the person being sued has insurance that’d cover it, because then jurors would think they do or do not have to award something since “it’s only the insurance company’s money.” Can’t put in stuff about a rape victim’s sexual background during a rape case, because we don’t want the jury to think she must’ve said yes because she’s a slut and has said yes to 10 other men this year alone.
There are so many rules of evidence, as I said, we have a class in them, and then get tested on the rules extensively so we know what to keep out of the hands of the normal people. Moral of this story? Lawyers don’t trust you any more than you trust them 😀