Is it Illegal ?
When is it important to determine legality ?
Is it ILLEGAL?
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,
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
by Arthur M. Monty Ahalt - April 20,2009