A Strategic Partner





  Print This Page

  Add To Favorites

Is it Illegal ?
When is it important to determine legality ?


Is it illegal? A familiar refrain and a close cousin to - is it legal? Or is THAT AGAINST THE LAW. Usually the question comes when someone is challenging another’s conduct.
Not too long ago a member of a church got very upset during a renovation process. Turns out the church did not get a permit. The member left the church in a huff claiming that what the church did was ILLEGAL. Or a family member wants to hire a nanny, or personal care taker and someone says that the law requires the care taker to have a permit otherwise it would be ILLEGAL to hire the care taker.
Generally speaking legal wrongs (especially criminal wrongs) are separated into two categories - 1. Malum in se, and 2. Malum prohibitum. Malum in se is a Latin phrase meaning “wrong in itself”. Malum prohibitum is a Latin phrase meaning “wrong because prohibited”. The use of this distinctions points to a recognition that some wrongs are so evil that they are wrong in of themselves - murder , rape, robbery, theft. While other actions are wrong merely because a lawful authority has declared them to be wrong - speeding, copyright, parking, licensing.
The number of Malum in se laws have not measurably increased since the founding of this Nation - while number of Malum prohibitum laws have proliferated to such a point that most every human activity is the subject to a law. Take the following test to see how many laws you can identify from the following sequence of events
John is a teenager living with his Mom, Dad, younger sister Caroline. Their Grandmother lives with them as does their dog Conway. He lives in a single family home in a town near the Nation’s Capitol. John is awakened every morning at 6 AM by his clock radio to the news station 103.6FM.When he arises from his bed he washes his face and brushes his teeth and then heads downstairs to have breakfast. He eats some fresh fruit and a bowl of cereal. He then gets dressed for school and gets his homework and books ready in his LL Bean back pack. John always wears his Nike tennis shoes and especially likes his Under Armour shirt. He leaves the house to catch the school bus a block from the house. He talks with his friends while waiting for the bus which arrives at 7:16 AM. While fooling around one of his friends pushes John and he falls down scraping his elbow. He arrives at his school at 8:45 AM.
Can you indentify the laws that have affected John’s activities and how many do you count? You will be surprised.
The number of laws that affect our daily activities is enormous. There are Federal Laws adopted by Congress. State Laws adopted by the state legislature. County laws adopted by the county council and city or town laws adopted by the city council. And it seems the number increases by warp speed. People say in my home state Maryland that nothing is safe between January and May when the state legislature is in session. Legislators take their job seriously but often that is viewed as proposing and passing a new law. Take the legislator who this year submitted a bill to make it illegal to change lanes without signaling . Seems that this lawmaker had done a survey and that Maryland was one of a very small minority of states that did not have such a motor vehicle law. Never mind that there was absolutely no evidence that the absence of such a law was creating a public safety issue.
So the church member and family member were right - the actions about which they complained were not lawful and thus illegal just as their actions were when they drove away at 40 mph in a 30 mph speed zone, rolled through a stop sign "California style" and parked in the fire zone while they ran into the cleaners to pick up the dry cleaning. My all time example of an illegal event was the action of a motorists back in the 60’s who pulled up in front of the store and parked in a handicap spot without a permit - some observer standing nearby yelled - “hey buddy that is for the physically handicapped not the mentally handicapped."

by Arthur M. Monty Ahalt - April 20,2009

Back to Top