Radley Balko linked this article about Virginia drivers being fined for not having proof of insurance, something that is actually not illegal in the state. Apparently, it is illegal to drive without having insurance coverage, but there is no requirement to carry proof of insurance or any crime defined in law for not carrying such proof.
SO there is some "confusion", but note that the only confusion is in the mind of state law enforcement officers, who are attempting to exceed the law. The obvious solution, to me, would be to educate the officers and prosecutors on the damn law. Of course, agents of the state have a different solution (emphasis added)
Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Michael R. Doucette agreed that failure to have proof of insurance while driving is not illegal.
"Rather, the offense is having an uninsured motor vehicle and not paying the uninsured motorist fee of $500 per year," Doucette said.
Doucette said requiring drivers to present either proof of insurance or proof of payment of the uninsured vehicle fee would go a long way to clear up the confusion. The General Assembly has considered such a mandate at least three times, but has never passed it.
Get it? The best way to solve the problem of the state exceeding its authority is to just give the state new powers and criminalize more things so its actual authority matches it's desired powers. I fear that this will also be the state's answer for the fact that photography is not a crime.
One of the things that takes some of the fun out of running a small business is knowing that, despite all your best efforts, you are probably violating the law somewhere and there is a bureaucrat (or in California, a tort lawyer) trying to make a name for themselves by nailing you for this technical violation. Now, I'm not talking about chaining employees to the assembly line or even paying below the minimum wage. I am talking about $45,000 fines for not splitting the two portions of a Davis-Bacon wage out correctly on a pay stub or getting sued for not properly posting one of your required labor department posters or having a counter 1/2" too high for ADA regulations.
Via Overlawyered comes this Independence Institute (pdf) report about the criminalization of everything, a practical primer on the philosophic musings on individual decision-making here.
There is a principle in jurisprudence that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." In other words, no one can justify his illegal conduct on the grounds that he was unaware of the law. But what happens when the sheer volume, complexity, and ambiguity of the law means that neither citizens, nor the government, can reasonably know
what is and is not against the law?
Colorado currently has some 30,000 laws filling more than 50 volumes of the Colorado Revised Statutes, both criminal and regulatory. Every session, the Colorado General Assembly passes hundreds of new laws for government to enforce and citizens to both understand and obey. Aside from the sheer number of laws, the definition of what constitutes a criminal act has changed; often the legislature actually creates new crimes, and thus, new criminals, where no inherent criminality exists.
We operate in 11 states. Think of it. 50 volumes times 11 states plus the federal code. Eeek.
In his book Drug War Addiction, Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County Colorado describes his discovery of the Colorado Statutes of 1908. At the time, "all the laws of the state fit in one volume. Murder, rape, assault, stealing, and trespassing were all against the law in 1908.
So the other 49 volumes outlaw, what?
Update: Welcome Overlawyered readers. More thoughts on the dangers of the over-regulated state here.