Is Ignorance of the Law a Legal Defense?


Navigating the legal system in the United States can be complicated as there are often various discrepancies between state, federal, and municipal laws. This can make it challenging to determine what constitutes a crime. Consequently, it’s possible to commit a crime without knowing it. In such cases, individuals wonder whether there are any valid defenses. Laws apply to every person within a jurisdiction, whether known or understood. Therefore, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense in most cases. However, there are certain exceptions. Please continue reading to learn when ignorance of the law can be used as a legal defense and how a competent  Escambia County Criminal Defense Lawyer can fight for you today. 

Is Ignorance of the Law Ever a Valid Defense?

It’s common for people in the criminal justice system to claim that they were unaware that their actions were illegal and, therefore, should not bear the consequences. However, this argument is usually unsuccessful as the general legal principle is that ignorance of the law is not a defense. If ignorance of the law were accepted as an excuse for every crime, anyone facing criminal charges would argue ignorance to avoid the consequences. Nonetheless, there are exceptions to this rule. In limited circumstances, ignorance or misunderstanding of the law can be used as a valid defense.

When can it be presented as a legitimate defense?

Generally, most laws do not care if the person knows their action is unlawful. However,  ignorance of the law as a defense strategy can apply if the crime in question requires you to have a specific intent. Under these circumstances, the prosecution would have been burdened with proving that you knew your actions were illegal to assert that you violated the law. Therefore, if you’re facing criminal charges for an offense that requires you to act willfully or intentionally, you may be able to assert your ignorance of the law defense.

Furthermore, state and federal governments must provide public notice when criminal laws are enacted. The government cannot prosecute an offender without the knowledge or access to understanding that an action is illegal. The government cannot pass secret laws and prosecute unwary offenders as it would violate their rights. If you’ve been charged with violating a new law just recently passed, you may be able to assert your ignorance as a defense. However, you will have to prove that you lacked knowledge because the government provided insufficient notice or the wording of the criminal law was unclear.

If you’re facing criminal charges, please don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a skilled lawyer from The Law Office of James M. Burns, who can help you determine whether ignorance of the law can be used as a valid legal defense for your particular circumstances.