Lawyers Share 19 “Laws” People Think Exist But Actually Don’t

It’s funny, isn’t it, how certain things become part of popular culture, are handed down and passed around like when kids play a game of telephone – the original message is garbled, or changed, and probably doesn’t sound much like the original, but we all believe it’s true.

The internet has definitely amplified this effect, and studies have shown that people everywhere struggle to discern the difference between fact and fiction.

These 19 lawyers on Reddit are chiming in with the legal side of this issue – and these “laws” people totally believe are a thing, even though they totally aren’t.

19. I totally thought you could get a ticket for this.

As a former lawyer (UK), I lost count of the amount of people that thought jaywalking was a crime.

Unless it’s a road that specifically states ‘no pedestrians’ or a motorway, no such offence exists here.

Edit: to clarify I’m talking about it not being a crime in the UK, it may well be elsewhere (Australia, USA, Germany and others)

18. You’re not getting that for a buck, sorry.

In the UK, people often claim that if an item is listed for sale in a shop then the shop legally has to sell it to you at that price. This is not true at all as the shop doesn’t have to sell you anything at any price.

Often as a gesture of goodwill shops will honour erroneous prices, but they are under absolutely no obligation to do so.

17. So say we all.

Eventhough many people think so, there has actually never been a Danish law allowing you to beat up a swede with a stick, if he should walk across the ice on Oresund during winter.

But, even though the law has never existed, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

16. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it?

That commercial use of a photograph means selling the photograph.

Commercial use means that there is an implied endorsement. You can take and sell photos of Eric Clapton all day long. Put that same photo in an advertisement for a certain guitar without a release and you can be sued.

15. Another thing that only happens on television!

This isn’t exactly what you’re asking for, but I think it’s valuable for people to know:

You do not need to wait 24 hours to report someone as missing.

14. I mean we’ve all gotta entertain ourselves somehow.

Probate attorney here. I’ve had many people ask me when the ”reading of the will“ is going to take place. I explain to them that only happens in movies.

But one of these days I am going to have one, and hire a mysterious blonde wearing a veil to sit in the corner quietly. Then I’ll tell everyone that she inherits everything. Provided, of course, that she must adopt the decedent’s cute but troublemaking six year old child no one knew about. Or she can spend the night in a haunted house.

Her choice.

13. You can and people have still gone to prison.

Circumstantial evidence.

Often pop culture portrayal of criminal law tries to draw a distinction between “hard” evidence–like blood at the scene or a weapon in the suspect’s possession–from “circumstantial” evidence–such as what a witness heard or mismatched entries in a calendar that contradict an alibi. How often have you heard a TV suspect, when confronted with some facts, say “That’s all circumstantial, it’s not enough to convict me!” The viewer is left with the impression that the facts presented don’t matter and that the law weighs circumstantial evidence less.

In reality, the law doesn’t afford any more weight to one type of evidence or another. There isn’t even a formal distinction in criminal rules between the two. There is an academic distinction: “hard” evidence, also called direct, is based on direct observation and doesn’t require any explanation beyond the facts themselves. Circumstantial evidence requires some inference to arrive at the important fact to be proved. For example, a witness testifying that he saw the suspect stab the victim is direct evidence of the action of stabbing. But that witness could then testify that before the stabbing, he heard the suspect demand that the victim hand over his wallet and the victim refuse. This is circumstantial evidence of motive: you can infer that the suspect then stabbed the victim because he wanted the wallet and didn’t get it when asked.

Circumstantial evidence is often vital to establish certain criminal elements like motive that can’t directly be observed. But there is no “Get Out Of Jail Free” card just because evidence is circumstantial. If your wife hears you plotting to kill her and sees your axe sharpening equipment in the attic, your neighbor finds your copy of How to Kill Your Wife and Get Away with It, and you write an email to your brother saying “I’m going to do it tonight, that hoe cooked my steak well done,” you’re probably going to jail for murder. It’s irrelevant that you destroyed your axe, cleaned the basement perfectly, ensured no witnesses, and fed the body to pigs. Circumstantial evidence can be enough.

12. What is the Age of Majority?

NAL, but here’s one that bounces around Legal Advice every couple months.

The Age of Majority in Mississippi is 21, so people say your parents control your life until then and you can’t move out without permission until you are 21. The truth is that the law means they have an obligation to provide for you until you are 21, you can move out at 18 and not face any penalty or be forced to return.

“Although the age for Mississippi emancipation is officially 21, this only refers to emancipation from a parent’s obligation to support their young adult financially. In Mississippi, individuals age 18 and older may vote, enter into legal contracts, take legal action against others and be sued for damages. Similarly, an individual age 18 or older who moves out of his parents’ home is not considered a runaway in Mississippi and is not legally required to return to the family home.”

11. You can’t assault someone for mouthing off.

Fighting words is not a defense to battery. It just means that the government can prosecute face to face insults likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

ETA: Not to say that provocation defenses don’t exist dependent on jurisdiction, but “fighting words” in the US refers to an exception to the 1st Amendment.

10. I definitely don’t think this.

People that think it’s illegal to be video taped in a public space.

9. How convenient that would be, hmm?

In my country some people believe they can ‘press charges’ against someone.

You can’t. You report a crime and the police decide if they are taking it further. It’s not up to you whether charges are brought, you may want charges brought but the police drop the case. Alternatively you can refuse to ‘press charges’ and the police can bring a case anyway. It’s harder without the victim or witness cooperation but they still can.

You do have a right to civil cases of course but when people say ‘press charges’ they believe they can do this via the police.

8. Be careful what you “learn” from watching cop shows.

An arrest isn’t magically invalidated if the police don’t read you your rights on the spot.

There could be a whole thread of just misconceptions people have from watching Cop TV.

7. I still don’t understand this tbh.

It’s a law that exists but widely misunderstood is the concept of Entrapment. If the police put a Bait vehicle in a high crime area, that is NOT entrapment. If the police are watching a bar known to overserve to see if there are impaired drivers at the end of the night that is NOT entrapment.

Entrapment only occurs when a gov agent suggests committing a crime that you were not otherwise going to commit.

6. I honestly can’t believe people buy into this crap.

“Sovereign citizen” stuff. I feel like enough folks have claimed to be sovereign citizens that it’s become normal. But no, generally you can’t declare yourself exempt from the laws in effect where you are.

5. Handy should you ever need to object in court.

The one that is the most frustrating to me, even though it’s not really a specific claim that a particular law exists, more a rule of evidence, is “that’s just hearsay! You have no evidence!” Comes up all the time, in all kinds of contexts. Even lawyers love using it when it suits them: “nothing but hearsay and speculation.”

Usually, what people mean when they say that is “don’t believe them! They’re lying!” Which, fair enough, but that’s not what hearsay means.

Lottttts of evidence is just a person talking. That’s what a witness is. It’s why testimony exists. It’s not not evidence just because it’s a person talking. “Hearsay” just means that in most cases, you can’t have person A say that person B said XYZ, in order to prove that XYZ actually is true. Hear-say, get it? A heard B say it. It just means your witness can only talk about things they actually know about.

(And, extremely importantly, it also doesn’t count as hearsay when person B is actually the person on the other side of the case. Person A is totally allowed to say “Person B told me ‘yes, I will commit the crime on Tuesday” if Person B is the defendant, who has been accused of committing the crime on Tuesday. You don’t get to complain it’s hearsay if you’re the one who supposedly said the thing they heard.)

4. Don’t do this unless it’s your spouse.

Not quite on point:

A lot of people don’t understand that co-signing a loan means that you are on the hook for the loan as much as the other person. The car gets repoed and then they are shocked that their wages are getting garnished.

Co-signing is not you saying you think your friend is a cool dude who is good for it; you are saying you will pay for it if they don’t. And they want you on the hook because they think there is a good chance the main applicant is a deadbeat. Basically, don’t cosign shit for anybody.

3. You could still get towed though, yeah?

In the UK, it’s not illegal to park on someone else’s drive(way). It’s classified as trespassing, a civil offence, not criminal, which means the police can’t do anything.

This particularly surprises people as many think that they have exclusive rights to the parking outside their house as well.

2. Seriously, start talking about it.

In California, it’s not illegal to discuss your wages with your co-workers, despite what your boss might say.

Edit: I’m a lawyer in California. I assume it’s the same in the other 49 states, but don’t want to speculate.

1. It all depends on what you look like. For real.

You can go 10 over the speed limit. My dad thought this was true as he was new to the country and quickly found out by a speeding ticket that it was not.

Some of these really surprised me!

Did you already know all of these aren’t real laws, or did some surprise you, too? Confessions in the comments, please!