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Ignorance of the Law in Illinois

July 1st, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Illinois defense attorney, Illinois criminal lawyer, Illinois criminal justice system,No one knows everything. We are human. However, when it comes to ignorance and the criminal law in Illinois, there is somewhat of a double standard. Criminal defendants are held responsible for their ignorance, but police are not.

What is the Law Regarding Defendants’ Ignorance?

Under Illinois statute, knowledge that certain conduct constitutes an offense is not an element of the offense unless the statute explicitly makes it so. Similarly, knowledge of the existence, meaning, or application of the statute defining the offense is not an element of the offense unless it is included in the offense. In other words, a person does not have to know that his or her conduct is criminal or that there is a law against it in order for that person to be held criminally responsible. A person’s ignorance or mistake as to a matter of either fact or law only provides a defense in extremely limited circumstances, like when the ignorance negates the existence of the mental state required for the crime or the person has relied on certain official interpretations of the law like administrative regulations, statutes, court opinions, or certain other official interpretations.

What is the Law Regarding Police Officers’ Ignorance?

Unlike regular citizens, police officers are often not held responsible when they are ignorant of the law. One example of this double standard comes into play in the search and seizure context. Police officers are not allowed to pull over anyone driving down the road for no reason at all. Traffic stops are considered seizures under the Fourth Amendment to our United States Constitution. Therefore they must be supported by reasonable suspicion or probable cause. This means that the officer must have some basis for believing that the driver or occupants of the car are engaged in or have been engaged in criminal activity. A mere hunch is not enough. This works out when the police officer knows and understands the law that he or she believes may have been broken. But what happens when the police officer is ignorant of the law?

According to the Illinois Supreme Court, the police officer can go ahead and pull you over and have it be a lawful stop even if he or she was ignorant as to the law’s actual meaning and got it wrong. According to the Court, an objectively reasonable, though mistaken, belief as to the meaning of the law may for the basis for a constitutionally valid vehicle stop. As such, even if the officer is ignorant as to the law’s actual meaning, he or she is allowed to pull you over so long as he or she is being “objectively reasonable” in his or her interpretation of the law.

Call the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley

When you make a mistake regarding the law, you can find yourself facing criminal charges. If this happens to you, you will need the assistance of an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley at (847)394-3200. We will fight for you and help you to obtain the best possible outcome in your case.

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