“My new client explained to me how their busy day shopping for a new mattress, checking out beds of various mattress sizes and firmness, turned into a nightmare. Somehow, my client’s purse got caught on the dreaded label on the side of a mattress they were trying out, and off it came! She had committed a cardinal offense: ‘Do not remove label under penalty of law.’ She now feared for her future.”
Of course this is far fetched. The only individuals really prosecuted under this crazy law are merchants trying to void warranties on products or pass off inferior products; consumers are totally free to remove the labels once they purchase the products. But individuals across the country are afraid they may be prosecuted for breaking such a law, and so they keep those ugly tags dangling off their mattresses and pillows till they toss their bedding out years down the road.
But be prepared. As an attorney, you just might have a client someday who needs you to defend him or her for breaking laws even crazier than this:
- Eating fried chicken with a fork.
Yes. This is actually an arrestable offense in Gainesville, Georgia. Not only is it against the law to eat fried chicken with a fork, but it is also illegal to eat fried chicken any other way than with one’s bare hands. The fried chicken law was originally passed in 1961 as a publicity stunt for the city, but the crazy law still remains in the books today. Occasionally, it’s “enforced” to bring renewed publicity to the city, but the mayor will always pardon the offending individual.
- Wearing a mask in public.
Someday, a client such as Jeremy Putnam from Winchester, Virginia, may walk into your office. In 2017, Putnam was arrested for violating an over-70-year-old law against wearing a mask in public. The law states that individuals over the age of 16 can’t “wear any mask, hood, or other device that covers part or all of the face” in the public arena; the exceptions to this law are masks worn with Halloween costumes and on holidays. Originally, the law was targeted at members of the Ku Klux Klan, but clearly, it is still alive and well and fully enforceable with other violators. Cosplay enthusiasts and ComiCon attendees may need to beware if they ever decide to have a convention in Winchester, Virginia!
Additional states, such as New York, have similar laws. New York’s law has been in effect since 1845. Other states, such as Arizona, are considering laws against wearing masks, but usually just for criminals in the act of committing their crimes.
- Swearing in public.
In Virginia, a profanity law that has been in effect since 1860, imposes a $250 fine for anyone caught committing the Class 4 misdemeanor of profaning in public. In Mississippi, swearing in public (using vulgar or obscene language in front of two or more people) is also against the law. Clearly, this law is often overlooked or a good portion of Mississippi would find themselves paying their $100 fine or serving their 30 day sentences in jail. The state of Mississippi has additional profanity laws, going so far as to prohibit entering someone else’s home and using “abusive, vulgar, or indecent language.”
Other states have specific profanity laws against blasphemy, including Massachusetts, Michigan, and Oklahoma; North Carolina has profanity laws regarding swearing on public roads or highways; Michigan and Oklahoma have specific anti-profanity laws to shield women and children.
With all of these laws still in effect, only a handful of people are ever charged. Chance are, you’ll never have to defend a client against a profanity charge these days, but it still does happen.
- Writing disturbing fiction
Someday, an up-and-coming author may walk through your firm’s door needing you to defend him or her against unlawfully writing disturbing material. In Illinois, for example, disorderly conduct laws extend to not only prank phone calls, but also fiction that any reader deems disturbing. It doesn’t even matter if your writing is public–if someone reads something personal that you’ve written and it disturbs them, you could be fined up to $1,500 or spend 30 days in jail.
In Kentucky, Tom Clancy needs to be careful. In that state, it’s illegal to write about fictional military attacks. (It’s actually a law aimed at writing that could be interpreted as actual terrorist threats, so Tom Clancy should be fine.)
In other states, such as Oklahoma, a person can spend up to ten years in prison for writing a completely fictional story where a person is killed or injured–all because a reader feels that there is an implied threat of future harm. One Oklahoma high school student, Brian Robertson, almost went to prison after writing a fictional story about a commando attic on his school.
With all of the recent attacks in schools and other places across the country, it’s easy to see why these laws are being enacted. But it’s also easy to see how someday, you may be asked to defend someone who just wants to be the next Tom Clancy.
From removing mattress tags to eating fried chicken with a fork, wearing a mask in public, swearing in front of others, and writing disturbing fiction, there will always laws that don’t make sense, that seem a little crazy or outdated. But as a lawyer, it’ll be your privilege to defend even the most ridiculous charges.
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